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Laos

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Inter City Boutique Hotel
Inter City Boutique Hotel - dream vacation

24-25 Fa Ngum Road Ban Wat Chan Chanthabuly District, Vientiane

Vientiane Garden Hotel
Vientiane Garden Hotel - dream vacation

Sihome Road , Vientiane , Lao, Vientiane

Salana Boutique Hotel
Salana Boutique Hotel - dream vacation

Chao Anou Rd, 112 Wat Chan Village, Vientiane

My Dream Boutique Resort
My Dream Boutique Resort - dream vacation

Ban Mougga village, Mougaga Street, Luang Prabang

Ibis Vientiane Nam Phu
Ibis Vientiane Nam Phu - dream vacation

Namphu Ban Xieng Ngneung, Vientiane

Laos (??? ???), officially known as the Lao People's Democratic Republic (??????????? ?????????? ??????????) (Lao PDR), is a nation in Southeast Asia, known for its mountainous terrain, French colonial architecture, hill tribe settlements, and Buddhist monasteries. A mountainous and landlocked country, Laos shares borders with Vietnam to the east, Cambodia to the south, Thailand to the west, and Myanmar and China to the north.

Regions

Cities

  • Vientiane — the still sleepy capital on the banks of the Mekong River
  • Huay Xai — in the north, on the Mekong and the border with Thailand
  • Luang Namtha — capital of the north, known for its trekking
  • Luang Prabang — a UNESCO World Heritage City known for its numerous temples, colonial era architecture, and vibrant night market
  • Muang Xay — also known as Oudomxay, the capital of the multi-ethnic province of Oudomxay
  • Pakbeng — halfway point on the overnight slow boat between Huay Xai and Luang Prabang
  • Pakse — gateway to the Wat Phu ruins and the "four thousand islands" (Si Phan Don)
  • Savannakhet — in the south on the Mekong, connected by bridge to Mukdahan in Thailand
  • Tha Khaek — a popular base for exploring Phou Hin Boun National Park including the famous Konglor Cave

Other destinations

  • Ban Nalan Trail — a two-day ecotourism trek in the north of Laos
  • Bolaven Plateau — highland with waterfalls, jungles and farmland
  • Champasak — Wat Phu is a UNESCO World Heritage Site with Angkor-style Khmer temples
  • Nong Khiaw — beautiful karst cliffs where you can discover hilltribe villages, kayak, bike ride or just hang out
  • Plain of Jars — Iron Age cemetery sites located near Phonsavan; also one of the main locations to learn about the "Secret War".
  • Si Phan Don — the "four thousand islands" are nestled within the Mekong near the Cambodian border
  • Vang Vieng — backpacker hangout for exploring limestone caves and tubing on the Nam Song river
  • Vieng Xai — remote cultural oasis and symbolic cradle of Marxism; see the caves where the Pathet Lao leaders ran their operations in defiance of the West

Understand

An adjective often applied to Laos is "forgotten". Although there are a few grand (but relatively unheard of) attractions, those visitors who are drawn by the laid-back lifestyle and the opportunity to knock back a few cold Beerlao while watching the sunsets on the Mekong will simply explain the attraction by revealing that the true meaning of "Lao PDR" is Lao-Please Don't Rush.

History

See also: Indochina Wars

Laos is squeezed between vastly larger neighbours. First created as an entity in 1353, when warlord Fa Ngum declared himself the king of Lane Xang ("Million Elephants"), the kingdom was initially a Khmer vassal state. After a succession dispute, the kingdom split in three in 1694 and was eventually devoured piece by piece by the Siamese, the last fragments agreeing to Siamese protection in 1885.

The area east of the Mekong, however, was soon wrenched back from Siam by the French, who wanted a buffer state to protect Vietnam, and set up Laos as a unified territory in 1907. Briefly occupied by Japan in 1945, a three-decade-long conflict was triggered when France wanted to retake its colony. Granted full independence in 1953, the war continued between a bewildering variety of factions, with the Communist and North Vietnam-allied Pathet Lao struggling to overthrow the French-leaning monarchy. During the Vietnam War (1964-1973), this alliance led the United States to dump 1.9 million tonnes of bombs on Laos, mostly in the northeast stronghold of the Pathet Lao: as a comparison 2.2 million tonnes were dropped on Europe by all sides during World War II.

In 1975, after the fall of Saigon, the Communist Pathet Lao took control of Vientiane and ended a six-century-old monarchy. Initial closer ties to Vietnam and socialization were replaced with a gradual return to private enterprise, an easing of foreign investment laws and admission into ASEAN in 1997.

Despite being just one hour by air from the hustle and bustle of Bangkok, life in Laos has continued in much the same way it has for hundreds of years, although things are now slowly beginning to change. In the mid-1990s the government reversed its stance on tourism, and then declared 1998 "Visit Laos Year", but despite their efforts and all Laos has to offer, monks still outnumber tourists throughout the country. This is now rapidly changing, with tourist numbers rising every year. Indeed, Vientiane is a laid-back, yet charmingly cosmopolitan village.

Culture

Despite its small population, Laos has 49 ethnic groups, or tribes, from which Lao, Khmou and Hmong constitute approximately three-quarters of the population. Most tribes are small, with some having just a few hundred members. The ethnic groups are divided into four linguistic branches: Lao-Tai language represented by 8 tribes, Mone-Khmer language with 32 tribes, Hmoung-Loumien language with 2 tribes, and Tibeto-Chinese language represented by 7 tribes.

Laos is officially Buddhist, and the national symbol, the gilded stupa of Pha That Luang, has replaced the hammer and sickle even on the state seal. Still, there is a good deal of animism mixed in, particularly in the baci (also baasi) ceremony conducted to bind the 32 guardian spirits to the participant's body before a long journey, after serious illness, the birth of a baby, or other significant events.

Lao custom dictates that women must wear the distinctive phaa sin, a long sarong available in many regional patterns; however, many ethnic minorities have their own clothing styles. The conical Vietnamese-style hat is also a common sight. These days men dress Western-style and only don the phaa biang sash on ceremonial occasions. Nowadays women often wear Western-style clothing, though the "phaa sin" is still the mandatory attire in government offices, not only for those who work there but also for Lao women who are visiting.

Climate

Laos has three distinct seasons. The hot season is from Mar-May, when temperatures can soar as high as 40°C and the humidity makes it feel like 50°C. The slightly cooler wet season is from May-Oct, when temperatures are around 30°C, tropical downpours are frequent (especially Jul-Aug), and some years the Mekong floods.

The dry season from Nov-Mar, which has low rainfall and temperatures as low as 15°C (or even to zero in the mountains at night), is "high season". However, towards the end of the dry season, the northern parts of Laos — basically everything north of Luang Prabang — can become very hazy due to farmers burning fields and fires in the forests.

Get in

Visas

Visas are not required by citizens of: Brunei and Myanmar (14 days), Japan, Luxembourg, Russia, South Korea and Switzerland (15 days), Cambodia, Indonesia, Malaysia, Mongolia, Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam. (30 days) A visa on arrival is also available to most (but not all) nationalities entering at the airports in VientianeLuang Prabang and Pakse, as well as the Thai-Lao Friendship Bridge between Nong Khai in Thailand and Vientiane and on the Lao/Vietnam-Border. It is also available when entering via Stung Treng (Cambodia), although guesthouses in Cambodia and the Lao embassy in Phnom Phen will pretend that it is not in order to make money with visa services. When applying for a tourist visa or to obtain a visa on arrival, one (maybe two at Lao embassies) passport photo is required although you may be able to pay a USD1 fee for your passport photo to be scanned upon arrival.

Prices range from USD30-42 depending on nationality -British USD35, Americans USD35, Canadians USD42, Australians USD30, New Zealand USD30. Irish USD35. Paying in Thai baht (1500baht)=UDS44 is possible too, but the mark-up means that travellers should try to bring US dollars.

Visas can be obtained in advance from Lao embassies/consulates. The fee varies by nationality/embassy; USD40 is common, although can be as high as USD63 (in Kuala Lumpur). Processing times also vary; 2-3 days is typical, though you may be able to pay an extra small amount (around USD5) to receive the visa in as little as one hour. In Phnom Penh the travel agencies can arrange the visa the same day (but may charge as much as USD58) while getting it from the embassy takes a few days. Getting a visa from the embassy in Bangkok costs around 1,400 baht for most nationalities, plus 200 baht more for "same day" processing. It's cheaper and quicker to get a Visa at the border.

  • Laos now has a Embassy in London UK.

Visas are also available at the Lao PDR consulate in Khon Kaen, Thailand. Thai and limited English are spoken by consular staff. Hours are Monday-Friday, 08:00-12:00 and 13:00-16:00. Several changes took place in Feb 2012, with prices have increased and are now the same to those charged by the Laotian Embassy in Bangkok.

Visas for Americans, British and citizens of several EU countries cost 1,400 baht/USD40, Australians and New Zealanders pay 1,400 baht/USD40, Canadians pay 1,700 baht/USD50 while Chinese pay 600 baht/USD17. Officially, visas can be picked up the next day, or pay an additional 200 baht to have the visa issued within 1 hour. Officially, only baht is accepted although if you don't have baht, they may take US dollars. Note: a 30-31 baht to the US dollar rate has been reported, making it more expensive than getting one on arrival and paying in US dollars. Given that a visa for many countries can cost USD20-42 at the border, getting a visa at the border is cheaper and quicker. Note: If you are taking the direct Khon Kaen to Vientiane bus and you require a visa for Laos, the bus company will not sell you a ticket unless you have a visa already issued.

There are Visa-on-Arrival facilities at the international airports in VientianeLuang Prabang and Pakse, and at all border crossings (see below), including now overland from Cambodia. Visa on arrival facilities opened at Voen Kham -north of Stung Treng, Cambodia- in February 2016. The cost varies between USD30 and USD42 if paid with US dollars, considerably more if paying with Thai baht and border officials will not accept Lao kip. If you pay in Thai baht, the cost is usually 1,500 baht (about USD43). A USD1 "out of office hours/overtime" surcharge at the Friendship Bridge in Vientiane, and a small possibly 10 baht to USD1 entry stamp fee, might also be charged.

Entry permit extensions (sometimes referred to as "visa extensions") are available from the Immigration Department in Vientiane, the Immigration Department in Luang Prabang, the Police Station in Pakse, and possibly other cities. Extensions are not possible in Lao's second city, Savannakhet, although you can do a border run from there to Thailand to get a new 30 day visa. The cost is USD2.50c per day plus a small "form fee" ranging between 5,000 kip (Pakse) to USD2 (Luang Prabang). The process is very easy; turn up in the morning with your passport and one photo; fill in a form (in Luang Prabang they do this for you) and come back in the afternoon for your extension.

If you want to extend for longer than two weeks and are near the Thai border, it can be more cost effective to nip over the border (entry to Thailand is free for most western nationalities) and return immediately to get a new 30 day Lao visa. a 30 day visa Extension cost USD75.

Visa Extensions are possible at the Immigration office in Thakhek (opposite the Rivera Hotel) Vientiane. the cost is USD$2.50c per day. you can also get a visa extension via agencies elsewhere in Laos. They will courier your passport to Vientiane and back again for a big fee. The minimum visa Extension is 30 days.

By plane

The international airports at Vientiane (VTE) and Luang Prabang (LPQ) are served by national carrier Lao Airlines, Lao Central Airlines, and a few others, including Thai Airways, Bangkok Airways (Luang Prabang only) and Vietnam Airlines. Some seats on flights of Vietnam Airlines are reserved for Lao Airlines (codesharing / better price). Pakse is the third international airport, with flights to/from Siem Reap (Vientiane - Pakse - Siem Reap by Lao Airlines) and from/to Ho Chi Minh City.

Laos used to be off-limits to low-cost carriers, however AirAsia now flies to Vientiane from Kuala Lumpur three times a week, and offers daily flights from Bangkok to Luang Prabang. Another cheap option for getting to Vientiane is to fly to Udon Thani in Thailand with discount airlines Nok Air or Air Asia and connect to Nong Khai and the Friendship Bridge via shuttle service directly from the airport (40 minutes); from here Vientiane is just 17 km away.

By train

The long-awaited first link across the Mekong from the Thai town of Nong Khai to Tha Naleng near Vientiane finally opened in 2009. There are two shuttle services per direction per day, with one timed to connect to the night trains to/from Bangkok. Visa on arrival is available when crossing the border by train. The train is not a very attractive option because the railway station is in the middle of nowhere.

By land

Most border crossings open for foreigners, with an indication where visas on arrival can be issued, are listed on the web site of the National Tourism Administration. This list is unfortunately incomplete.

Cambodia

Visa on arrival for Laos is now available (as of Feb 2010) when entering from Cambodia overland, with an official "Visa on Arrival" office incorporated into the checkpoint. The nearest Cambodian town is Stung Treng, and the border is a 90-minute speedboat or bus ride away. Note that the border is lightly used, with almost no onward public transport available at the border (therefore book through transport from Stung Treng to Ban Nakasang for Si Phan Don/Don Det) and both customs officers and transport providers have a reputation of gouging foreigners, although this seems to have improved recently. Currently both Cambodian and Laos border officials request USD1 stamp fee per country. Crossing the border (Oct 2010) the Cambodia officers will ask for USD1 for exit stamp. You can tell them you don't have any and they will still stamp it. On the Laos side officials will demand USD2 for an entry stamp, if you refuse they will not stamp it, and so you have no choice than to pay the bribe as you will need the stamp when leaving the country. Note, if you cross the border by boat, you will have to return by road to the border checkpoint to officiate your arrival by stamping your passport.

Two pitfalls at the Lao-Cambodian border are that you will often have four changes of bus (some are small minibuses where passengers have to sit on each other's laps), and hours spent driving to remote guesthouses to pick up backpackers. If your luggage has been sent in a bus you are not on, because of "lack of space", it will sometimes disappear. The "King of Bus Company" is known to do this.

China

The land crossing between Mengla (Yunnan) and Boten (Laos) is open to foreigners and visa on arrival is possible (USD37 for UK citizens) or you can get in advance at the Lao consulate in Kunming. Daily bus service operates from Mengla to Luang Namtha and Udomxai. Buses from Mengla to Luang Namtha leave from the North bus station. The first bus leaves around 08:00 and costs about ¥40.

Generally speaking, it is not possible for independent travellers to cross from China to Laos via the Mekong River, not least because there's a chunk of Myanmar in the middle and the Lao checkpoint at Xieng Kok does not issue visas on arrival. Travel agents in China, including Panda Travel, run irregular cruises from Jinghong (China) via Chiang Saen (Thailand) to Huay Xai (Laos), but schedules are erratic and prices expensive.

Myanmar

The Myanmar-Lao friendship bridge connects Shan State in Myanmar with Luang Namtha Province in Laos.

Thailand:

There are Eight border crossings open to all between Thailand and Laos. From north to south:

  • Huay Xai/Chiang Khong: Fourth bridge under construction. Usual route to/from Luang Prabang, easy bus connections to Chiang Rai and points beyond on the Thai side.
  • Muang Ngeun/Huay Kon: Visa on arrival. 40 km from Pak Beng.
  • Nam Hueng/Tha Li: Easily reached via Loei on the Thai side, but 378 km of dirt road away from Luang Prabang. No visa on arrival.
  • Vientiane/Nong Khai: The first Friendship Bridge and the busiest of crossing of them all. Direct trains from Bangkok now available.
  • Paksan/Bueng Kan: No visa on arrival.
  • Tha Khaek/Nakhon Phanom: Third bridge under construction.
  • Savannakhet/Mukdahan: The Second Thai-Lao Friendship Bridge.
  • Vang Tao/Chong Mek: On the route from Pakse to Ubon Ratchathani

Vietnam:

There are at least six border crossings that can be used by foreigners. These include:

  • Donsavanh - Lao Bao - to/from Savannakhet
  • Keo Nua Pass
  • Lak Sao - to/from Khammouan Province
  • Nam Can - to/from Plain of Jars
  • Na Meo - to/from Sam Neua
  • Tay Trang - to/from Muang Khua and Nong Khiaw
  • Bo Y (nearest town on Vietnamese side being Ngoc Hoi and on Lao side Attapeu)

By motorbike from Vietnam

The border crossing on a Vietnamese motorbike at Tay Trang is very easy and straightforward. You arrive after going over some hills at the Vietnamese border where very friendly guys handle your case easily and with no hassle. You fill out the form for "temporary export of a vehicle", show them the Vietnamese registration card for the bike (which is usually in the owners name) and pay USD10. Then you proceed to the police, show the papers to them and get the exit stamp.

You then have to drive for 6 km over the mountains to get to the Lao checkpoint. There some not so friendly border guards there who expect you to pay 5,000 kip for general fees and 25,000 kip for importing a vehicle. They fill out the form themselves.

Get around

Being in transit by air, road or river in Laos can be as rewarding as the destination itself - but allow plenty of leeway in your schedule for the near-inevitable delays, cancellations and breakdowns.

By plane

State carrier Lao Airlines has a near-monopoly on domestic flights. Pre-2000, their safety record was terrible, but they've improved considerably and managed a 13-year accident-free streak until an October 2013 crash near Pakse resulted in 49 victims, the country’s deadliest air disaster. Nevertheless, the fairly comprehensive network is by far the fastest and, relatively speaking, the safest) way of reaching many parts of the country.

As of 2013, the popular Vientiane-Luang Prabang route costs about USD101 (one-way full fare for foreigners), but covers in 40 minutes what would take you at least ten to twelve hours by bus. Several planes a day. Tickets can be bought on-line or at any travel agency.

Flights to more remote destinations are flown on the Xian MA60, a Chinese copy of the Soviet An-24, and are frequently cancelled without warning if the weather is bad or not enough passengers show up.

Lao Airlines also flies 14-passenger Cessnas from Vientiane to Phongsali, Sam Neua and Sainyabuli (Xayabouly) several times a week. These airfields are all rudimentary and flights are cancelled at the drop of a hat if weather is less than perfect.

By road

The highways in Laos have improved in the past ten years, but the fact that 80% remain unpaved is a telling statistic. Still, the main routes connecting VientianeVang ViengLuang Prabang and Savannakhet are now sealed, and the transport options on these roads include bus, minibus, and converted truck.

Some common routes through Laos include:

  • Vientiane to Vang Vieng – a rather short, rather quick, rather comfortable route (less than 4 hours by VIP bus).
  • Vang Vieng to Luang Prabang – an amazing scenery through the mountains, at the cost of a long 8-hour trip full of curves.
  • Luang Prabang to Phonsavan - minibus: cramped, so arrive early to get good seats as near the front as possible; beautiful views so secure a window seat if possible.
  • Phonsavan to Sam Neua - converted pickup truck: beautiful views but lots of hills and bends, hence possible nausea
  • Sam Neua to Muang Ngoi - minivan: a 12-hour trip along a horrible road; good views and a necessary evil, but fun if you're prepared to get a few knocks and talk to some Lao people who are, after all, in the same boat
  • Muang Ngoi to Luang Namtha - Minivan: 10 hour trip (Oudomxay); OK road, much travelled by backpackers
  • Luang Namtha to Huay Xai - road only passable in the dry season, but the same journey can be made by boat in the rainy season. China is building a new road to Thailand. The road from Luang Namtha to Huay Xai is part of this road and it is a very good road.
  • Paksan to Phonsavan - there is a new road between Borikham and Tha Thom. In Tha Thom there is a guesthouse with 8 rooms. The forest between Borikham and Tha Thom is still in a very good condition, but it's a dirt road. Since most of the forest in Laos has gone this is one of the last roads surrounded by primary forest. There are substantial road works being undertaken by the Vietnamese between Paksan and Phonsavan and there can be some fairly long delays along the way. Even though the trip is only a couple of hundred kilometres it can take 16-20 hr to traverse this section.

Local transport (less than 20 km) in Laos consists of tuk-tuks, jumbos, and sky labs, motorised three or four wheelers. A jumbo should cost no more than 20,000 kip for short journeys of 1-5 km.

You can now also travel the entire length of the country using a fully guided "hop on hop off" bus service provided by Stray Travel. This is the only guided hop on hop off bus in Southeast Asia.

Women should be aware that often during lengthy bus or minibus trips there is no opportunity to go to the toilet during breaks, so it may be advisable to wear a wide skirt.

By songthaew

A songthaew (??????) is a truck-based vehicle with a pair of bench seats in the back, one on either side — hence the name, which means "two rows" in Thai. In English tourist literature, they're occasionally called "minibuses". By far the most common type is based on a pick-up truck and has a roof and open sides. Larger types start life as small lorries, and may have windows, and an additional central bench; smaller types are converted micro-vans, with a front bench facing backwards and a rear bench facing forwards.

Songthaews are operated extensively as local buses, and generally are the most economical way to travel shorter distances. There also as taxis; sometimes the same vehicle will be used for both. Be careful if asking a songthaew to take you to someplace if there is nobody in the back, the driver might charge you the taxi price. In this case, check the price before embarking.

By tuk-tuk

The name tuk-tuk is used to describe a wide variety of small/lightweight vehicles. The vast majority have three wheels; some are entirely purpose-built, others are partially based on motorcycle components. A tuk-tuk organisation in Vientiane controls the prices that tourists are expected to pay for point to point destinations. The rates negotiable, and well you should clearly bargain rates prior to getting on the tuk tuk. The current rates can be found here: Tuk Tuk Prices in Vientiane

By motorcycle

Motorbike travel in Laos is not without risks but the rewards of truly independent travel are great. There are several rental shops in VientianeLuang PrabangPakse and Tha Khaek, but bike rentals in other parts of the country may be scarce. The quality of machines varies from shop to shop so you need to fully inspect it before you head out on the road. There are many good roads and many paved ones and touring Laos is done easily.

There are a variety of bikes available in Laos, depending on which town and rental shop you go to. Some available include the Honda Baja or XR 250 dual purpose bikes, Ko Lao 110 cc and the usual Honda Win/Dream 110 ccs. Helmets are not only mandatory in the country but a valuable item in a place where traffic rules are made up by the minute. Police have been cracking down on people who do not have a motorcycle licence, so expect to pay a fine if caught without one.

By bicycle

Cycling is a great option with quiet roads. Laos offers wonderful remote areas to discover, little traveled roads, friendly people and even some companies providing cycling tours with the help of professional guides all over the country. The more time people seem to spent in Laos the more they seem to like the quiet travel mood and the opportunity to actually be in contact with the people along the way. Good maps are available about the roads in Laos and all major routes are with good roads. In normal distances you find simple guest houses and in all major towns better choices and restaurant. Food is not a problem as long as you remember to carry some stuff with you. Tropical fruits and noodle soup are the standards.

There are a number of local operators running a wide selection of guided mountain biking tours through Laos.

If you travel on your own, there are very few proper bike shops outside of Vientiane. but also for bikes with 28 inch wheels you might have a hard time. Bring your equipment with you and make sure you get contact details from a supplier, perhaps in Thailand.

By boat

Boats along the Mekong and its tributaries are useful shortcuts for the horrible roads, although as the road network improves river services are slowly drying up, and many of the remaining services only run in the wet season, when the Mekong floods and becomes more navigable. Huay Xai on the border with Thailand to Luang Prabang and travel south of Pakse are the main routes still in use.

There are so-called slow boats and speedboats - the latter being tiny lightweight craft equipped with powerful motors that literally skid across the water at high speeds.

By slow boat

Many people go from Chiang Khong in Thailand via the border town of Houai Xai down the Mekong to the marvelous city of Luang Prabang. The ride takes two days and is very scenic. Apart from that, it is a floating backpacker ghetto with no (good) food sold, cramped, and hot. By the second day, the novelty has worn off. Recommended to bring a good (long) read, something soft for the wooden benches and patience.

Slow boats generally stop in the village of Pakbeng for the night. Some boat packages will include accommodation, although this is usually at an inflated rate. By arranging a hotel in the town itself, it is easy to get a lower price. Most shops in Pakbeng shut down at about 22:00, so expect to get a good sleep before the second day's boat ride. This is also a good place to stock up on supplies.

Recently the boats have considerably improved. They now have soft used car seats, and serve pre-fab food, which is not great, but certainly sufficient.

By speedboat

An attractive choice for some, with a 6-hour ride from Huay Xai to Luang Prabang, as compared to the two-day trip on the slow boat, but not for the faint of heart. Expect to be crammed into a modified canoe made for 4, with 10 other people, along with all the luggage somehow packed in. Expect to sit on the floor of the canoe, as there are no seats, with your knees against your chin for the full 6 hours. Expect an incredibly loud engine inches behind your head. Expect the engine to break a few times, and stops for delays to fix it. That being said, when this ride finally ends, if you make it with no trouble, you will never be happier to get to Luang Prabang. Stories of small, overloaded speedboats sinking or hitting driftwood are common, but if you are a good swimmer, take comfort in the fact that you can see both shores throughout the entire trip. So, as you see, choosing between the slow boat and the speedboat is a hard call, based mostly upon your comfort level; would you prefer a slow unpleasant trip, or a much faster, but more dangerous unpleasant trip. Either way, the scenery along the way is gorgeous and unexploited, and Luang Prabang is an incredible city, worth a thousand of these journeys.

Though helpful in saving time, speedboats are not without danger: built to carry 8 passengers, they are often overloaded; the engine noise is well above a healthy level, which could be a serious hazard to your ears, especially if you are on the boat for a long time. It also causes considerable noise pollution, scaring wildlife and spoiling the peaceful river life. Fatalities resulting from capsize due to incautious maneuvering, or hitting floating logs or hidden rocks, have been reported but some claim and are exaggerated by competing slow boat owners. However, the vast majority of speedboat users have no serious problems. If you are taller than the average Laotian are a bit claustrophobic and/or have inflexible leg muscles you are guaranteed an extremely uncomfortable experience for several endless hours.

Suggestions for those who decide to take the risk:

  • get one of the front seats as they allow you to stretch your legs and are far from the noisy motor
  • wear helmets and life jackets; reconsider your journey if these are not provided
  • bring a coat in the cold season, the strong wind can make you feel cold even at temperatures of 25C.
  • bring earplugs
  • protect water-sensitive equipment as you might get wet.

Talk

See also: Lao phrasebook

The official language of Laos is Lao, a tonal language closely related to Thai. Thanks to ubiquitous Thai broadcast media most Lao understand Thai fairly well, and some have adopted certain Thai words for tourist use, including farang ("Westerner". Does not apply to foreign Asians).

But it's worth learning a few basic expressions in Lao. The Lao people obviously appreciate that you make an effort even if it is quite limited. French, a legacy of the colonial days, still features on a few signs and is understood by a few people as it used to be a compulsory subject at school. However, the presence of English has also grown in recent years, with many younger people learning it. As a result, youth will generally know some basic English, though proficiency is generally poor.

Tourist areas will sometimes have school children who will practice their English with you as part of their curricular requirements. They may, after a conversation, ask you to sign a form or pose for a photo with you as proof that this conversation took place. These conversations can be a great time to gain some local ideas for your next sightseeing trip.

There are two main ways to turn the Lao script into the Latin alphabet: either French-style spellings like Houeisay, or English-style spellings like Huay Xai. While government documents seem to prefer the French style, the English spellings are becoming more common. The latter is used on Wikivoyage. Two quick pronunciation tips: Vientiane is actually pronounced "Wieng Chan", and the letter x is always read as an "s".

See

The key attraction of Laos is its undoubted status as the least westernised, the most relaxed and thereby the most authentic of all Indochinese nations. How much longer this will last is open to much speculation, but while it does this is a truly special and unique country to visit.

Natural attractions

The term wilderness is much misused, but it can truly be applied to much of Laos. The mighty Mekong river and its tributaries together create perhaps the single most important geographic feature of the country. Its meandering path in the North has created some of the most stunning limestone karsts anywhere on earth. The backpacker-central town of Vang Vieng is a commonly used base for exploring the karsts. Further north, the terrain becomes more hilly, and the jungle less explored. Luang Namtha is the far-northern town which makes the best base for those visitors who really want to see the truly remote Lao wilderness, and directly experience the lifestyles of the various hill tribes in this region.

In direct contrast to Northern Laos, the Mekong delta lowlands in the South are perfectly flat. Si Phan Don (four thousand islands) is a great base for experiencing what is surely the most chilled and relaxed region anywhere in Asia. Experiencing local village life, taking it all in and doing absolutely nothing should be the aim here. There are though some wonderful river-based sights, including the largest falls anywhere in Southeast Asia. If you are lucky you might get a close-up view of a Mekong pink dolphin.

Cultural attractions

In this most Buddhist of nations, it is no surprise that temples are a key attraction. In the capital city of Vientiane, the three-layered gilded stupa of Pha That Luang is the national symbol and most important religious monument in the country, dating from the 16th century. There are numerous other beautiful temples which on their own make a stay in the capital city vital for any visitor to Laos.

The whole of the ancient capital of Luang Prabang is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Befitting that status, it is a unique city. Beautifully preserved gilded temples with their attendant orange-robed monks mold almost seamlessly with traditional wooden Lao houses and grand properties from the French colonial era. Spotlessly clean streets with a thriving café culture on the banks of the Mekong and the Nam Khan, complete the picture of a city which is almost too pleasant to be true.

The Plain of Jars is a megalithic archaeological landscape dating from the Iron Age. Thousands of stone jars are scattered over a large area of the low foothills near Phonsavan. The main archaeological theory is that the jars formed part of Iron Age burial rituals in the area, but this is by no means proven, and a great deal of mystery remains. The area suffered tragic damage from American bombing during the Secret War of the 1960s, and much UXO remains uncleared. When that process is complete it is very likely this will be declared a UNESCO World Heritage site.

Wat Phu is a ruined Hindu Khmer temple complex in Champasak province. It dates from the 12th century and visitors who have been to Angkor Wat will notice the similarities.

Recent history

The town of Vieng Xai provides a striking insight in the recent history of not only Laos, but the whole of Indochina. In 1964, the US began intensive bombing of the Lao communist movement – Pathet Lao – bases in Xieng Khouang. Under much bombardment, the Pathet Lao moved east to Vieng Xai and established their headquarters in the limestone karst cave networks around the town. A whole 'Hidden City' was established which supported around 20,000 people. During nine years of almost constant American bombing, the Pathet Lao sheltered in these caves, and lived in a largely subterranean environment. Schools, hospitals and markets as well as government ministries, a radio station, a theatre and military barracks were all hidden in the caves. After the 1973 ceasefire, Vieng Xai briefly became the capital of Laos, before that function was moved to Vientiane in 1975. There are formal daily tours of the caves, as well as other evidence of that era in the town.

Do

  • Herbal Sauna. One Laotian experience definitely worth trying is the herbal sauna. Often (but not always) run by temples, these are simple-looking affairs, often just a rickety bamboo shack with a stove and a pipe of water on one side, usually open only in the evenings. The procedure for a visit is usually:
  • Enter and pay first. The going rate is around 10,000 kip, plus around 40,000 kip if you want a massage afterward.
  • Go to the changing room, take off your clothes and wrap yourself up in a sarong which is usually provided.
  • Keeping yourself modestly sarong-clad, head over to the shower or water bucket in one corner and wash up.
  • Plunge into the sauna room itself. It will be dark, hot and steamy inside, with intense herbal scents of lemongrass and whatever the sauna master is cooking up that day, and you will soon start to sweat profusely.
  • When you've had your fill, head outside, sip on a little weak tea and marvel at how the tropical heat of the day now feels cool and refreshing.
  • Repeat at will.
  • Hiking. Hiking in mountainous Northern Laos is popular, and this often includes homestays in minority tribe villages. The main hub for this is Luang Namtha where the two day Ban Nalan Trail is especially notable. The route goes through the Nam Ha National Protected Area, and involves staying in Khmu villages. Other hiking hubs include Oudomxay, south of Luang Namtha, and Pakse in southern Laos.
  • Kayaking. Can be arranged in a wide number of locations. The ambitious traveller could kayak the Mekong between Luang Prabang and Vientiane.
  • Rock Climbing. The limestone karst formations in Northern Laos are ideal for rock climbing. Vang Vieng is the main rock-climbing centre but climbs are also possible further north at Nong Khiaw and Mung Ngoi.
  • Tubing. Floating down the river on a large inflatable tube is one of the attractions of the SE Asia backpacker circuit. The hugely popular stretch of the Nam Song at Vang Vieng is lined with bars that lure you and your tube in with ziplines, water slides, loud music, buckets of terrible local whiskey, and unlimited Beerlao. After numerous tourist deaths, crackdowns on Vang Vieng tubing were announced in Aug 2012. Since then, many river bars have been closed down along with their flying foxes and rope swings. Tubing is still possible, but it's now a lot quieter. Whether this is a long or short-term result is still to be seen. Tubing can also be found in other locations around Laos including Si Phan Don, Nong Khiaw and Mung Ngoi.

Buy

Money

The Lao currency is the kip, demoted by the symbol"?" (ISO code: LAK). It has been newly convertible at banks in neighbouring countries since the establishment of the Lao stock market in 2011. It is possible to exchange to and from kip at Vientiane airport (opens at 09:00) and there is a Lao bank that exchanges at the Nong Khai-Vientiane land border (straight and right of the Visa on Arrival desk).

The largest note is 100,000 kip and rather uncommon (although you may get some from the ATM). Notes in common circulation are 500, 1,000, 2,000, 5,000, 10,000, 20,000 and 50,000 kip. Withdrawing the maximum of 1,000,000 kip from an ATM could result in 20 50,000 kip notes. This makes carrying large quantities of kip quite inconvenient. Although less common than in the past, USD will sometimes be accepted, although usually at about 5-10% less than the official rate. Thai baht may be accepted in many areas near the border, notably Vientiane. In remote places, only kip is accepted and no ATMs will be available, so plan ahead.

More touristy places and banks are also accept the euro. So if you're from one of the euro countries, just bring some just in case. This could be cheaper than changing your euros into baht or USD and then into kip.

There are many ATMs in Vientiane, and they have also appeared in other major cities including Luang PrabangVang ViengSavannakhet, Tha Khaek, Pakse and Luang Namtha. BCEL, the largest bank, accepts both Visa/Cirrus and MasterCard/Maestro, but surcharges of USD1-2 often apply.

Many banks, travel agents and guest houses will allow you to take out cash from a credit card as a cash advance. This usually occurs by withdrawing the money in USD from the card as a cash advance; the card issuer will usually charge a fee (about 3%), the Lao bank involved will charge about 3%, and then the agent providing the cash advance might or might not charge another 3%, and then the amount is converted from USD to kip at an unfavourable rate, costing another 5% or so. Thus, these transactions are much more expensive than the typical charge for withdrawing cash from ATMs in other countries. Euros get pretty bad rates compared to USD when exchanged in Laos, getting a cash advance in USD and changing it to kips might actually save money compared to bringing euros with you to Laos. Expats living in Vientiane routinely get cash from ATMs in Nong Khai or Udon Thani in Thailand, where the maximum per transaction is mostly 20,000 baht, or ten times what you'll get in Laos.

The use of ATMs and credit cards in banks is subject to computer operation, staff computer skills, power cuts, telephone network breakdowns, holidays, etc. A few visitors have been forced out of the country prematurely as they couldn't withdraw funds to continue their travels. Always bring some cash. Changing money can be next to impossible outside major towns.

Banks give good rates, and private exchange booths are common in the major tourist areas.

Shopping hours

Many shops start an hour's lunch break at noon, and some maintain the (now abolished) official French two-hour break. Nearly everything is closed on Sundays, except restaurants and many shops.

Costs

The basic Lao approach towards tourists is the "milking cow" approach. They will take whatever tourists are willing to pay. Lately, prices have exceeded those of neighbouring Thailand and Vietnam, though the standards are lower. Hotels are of lower quality, and priced higher compared to Thailand or Cambodia, the dishes in restaurants are smaller, and the tuk-tuks more of a rip-off. It's worse in the tourist centres of Luang Prabang and Vang Vieng than in the smaller towns and villages.

A budget of USD40 a day is a good rule of thumb, though it's possible to get by on less. A basic room with shared bath can be as little as USD6 in Vang Vieng or as much as USD10-15 in Vientiane or Luang Prabang. Meals are usually under USD5 for even the most elaborate Lao, Thai or Vietnamese dishes (Western food is more expensive), and plain local dishes cost USD2-3. A local bus from Vientiane to Vang Vieng costs USD5; a VIP bus from Vientiane to Luang Prabang costs 160,000 kip; the slow boat from Luang Prabang to Huay Xai costs USD25.

Unlike in Thailand, access to temples in Luang Prabang is not free, but typically costs 10,000 kip.

Laos is more expensive than Thailand and Cambodia as most goods, petrol, and food is imported from Thailand and Vietnam, and because most people have the bad habit (especially tuk-tuk drivers) of considering USD1 as 10,000 kip, where in fact it's about 8,200 kip for USD1. Remember this in bargaining with tuk-tuk drivers and when shopping in markets.

Outside of tourist centres, rooms can be found for USD2.50, and even at Si Phan Don for USD5/night. Large noodle soups are around USD2, and a typical price for large bottles of Beerlao is 10,000 kip.

Excluding transport costs, living on USD15/day isn't difficult.

What to buy

Typical Lao dresses in cheap machine-made fabric can be made to order. Expect to pay around USD5 for the fabric and USD2 for labour. Handmade Lao silk is one of the most attractive things to buy. The talat sao (Morning Market) in Vientiane has dozens of small shops selling 100% handmade silk scarves or wall hangings from USD5 upwards depending on quality, intricacy of design and size. Beware cheap synthetic fabrics sold as silk imported from China and Vietnam. Be careful also of "antique silk" as there is very little available, but new fabric can be made to look old and worn. Still attractive, but don't pay more than USD30-50. In markets, always bargain: it is expected, but keep smiling.

Eat

Lao food is very similar to that eaten in the northeastern Isaan region of Thailand: very spicy, more often bitter than sweet, and using lots of fresh herbs and vegetables served raw. Some of the raw vegetables can be used to cool your mouth when the chilis are overwhelming.

Rice is the staple carbohydrate. The standard kind is sticky rice (????????khao niaow), eaten by hand from small baskets called tip khao. Using your right hand, never your left, pinch off a bit, roll into a ball, dip and munch away.

The national dish is laap (???, also larb), a "salad" of minced meat mixed with herbs, spices, lime juice and, more often than not, blistering amounts of chili. Unlike Thai larb, the Lao version can use raw meat (dip) instead of cooked meat (suk), and if prepared with seafood makes a tasty, if spicy, carpaccio.

Another Lao invention is tam maak hung (???????????), the spicy green papaya salad known as som tam in Thailand, but which the Lao like to dress with fermented crab (????? pudem) and a chunky, intense fish sauce called pa daek (?????), resulting in a stronger flavour than the milder, sweeter Thai style. Other popular dishes include ping kai, spicy grilled chicken, and mok pa, fish steamed in a banana leaf.

Laos also boasts a range of local desserts. Kanom kok is a small, spherical pudding made from coconut milk, tapioca and ground rice. Sang kaya mayru is a pumpkin filled with a sweet custard and then steamed. The pumpkin itself is also sweet, and the resulting mixture can be quite delicious. Sticky rice with mango or durian is also a popular snack.

In addition to purely Lao food, culinary imports from other countries are common. Khao jii pat-te, French baguettes stuffed with pâté, and foe (pho) noodles from China are both ubiquitous snacks particularly popular at breakfast. Note that foe can refer both to thin rice noodles (Vietnamese pho) as well as the wide flat noodles that would be called guay tiow in Thailand.

Drink

The national drink of Laos is the ubiquitous and tasty Beerlao, made with Laotian jasmine rice and one of the few Lao exports. It maintains an almost mythical status among travellers and beer aficionados. The yellow logo with its tiger-head silhouette can be seen everywhere, and a large 640 ml bottle shouldn't cost more than 10,000 to 15,000 kip in restaurants. It's available in three versions: original (5%), dark (6.5%) and light (2.9%). The brewery claims they have 99% market share.

Rice spirit, known as lao-lao, is everywhere and at less than USD0.30 per 750 ml bottle is the cheapest way to get drunk. Beware, as quality and distilling standards vary wildly.

Lao coffee (kaafeh) is recognised to be of very high quality. It's grown on the Bolaven Plateau in the south; the best brand is Lao Mountain Coffee. Unlike Thai coffees, Lao coffee is not flavoured with ground tamarind seed. To make sure you aren't fed overpriced Nescafé instead, be sure to ask for kaafeh thung. By default in lower end establishments, kaafeh lao comes with sugar and condensed milk; black coffee is kaafeh dam, coffee with milk (but often non-dairy creamer) is kaafeh nom.

Tap water is not drinkable, but bottled water is cheap and widely available.

There is not much nightlife outside of Vientiane and Vang Vieng. To have a beer in some places, simply visit a restaurant. Something to note however is that some areas may be so laid back that they will expect you to keep track of what you have drunk, with the odd guest house asking how much you have drunk during your stay upon check out.

Sleep

Accommodation options outside the Mekong Valley's main tourist spots are limited to basic hotels and guesthouses, but there are many budget and mid-priced hotels and guesthouses and quite a few fancy hotels in Vientiane and Luang PrabangPakse has the Champasak Palace.

Work

Lao work permits are difficult to obtain, unless you can secure employment with one of the numerous NGOs. English teaching is possible but poorly paid (USD5-8/hour).

One of the most interesting ways to get to know a country, and which has become increasingly popular, is to volunteer.

  • FruitFriends, Baan Phonpeng, Unit 10, House 151, Vang Vieng. A social enterprise working with agricultural products. Profits are used to establish community-based project in the direction of education. Their main focus is children, teenagers, and young adults. 2 weeks, USD400; 24 weeks, USD2,370.
  • Travel to Teach, 184 Moo 5, Ban San Aum, Cheung Doi, Doi Saket, Chiang Mai, Thailand, ? +66 88 1423556. An international volunteer organization that links volunteers from all over the world with grass-roots community projects in Southeast Asia and Central America. 2 weeks, USD715, 24 weeks, USD2,535.

Stay safe

  • Identification When traveling in Laos, it is important to travel with a copy of your passport at all times. You may be asked to show ID at any time, and a fine (100,000 kip) will be imposed if you do not produce documentation on request.
  • Crime levels are low in Laos, though petty theft (bag snatching) is not unknown and keeps rising with the inability of authorities to prevent it. Reports of robbery at gunpoint surface in the big cities. Though unlikely to affect most tourists, Laos is one of the world's most corrupt countries and the corruption is a big factor in many citizens' lives.
  • Judicial process remains arbitrary and, while you are unlikely to be hassled, your legal rights can be slim or non-existent if you are accused.
  • Sexual relations between a Lao national and a foreigner are illegal unless they are married, and marriage requires special permits. Lao hotels are not permitted to allow a foreigner and Lao national in the same hotel room together. "Number One" condoms are available for 1,000-5,000 kip for a pack of three. These are probably the cheapest condoms in the world, and their quality seems reasonable.
  • Homosexuality is legal in Laos when it is non-commercial and practiced between consenting adults in private. Public displays of affection between same-sex couples may be tolerated in larger cities like Luang Prabang and Vientiane, but in smaller towns homosexuality remains taboo, especially among the Hmong people.
  • Drugs are a large problem in Laos and should be avoided at all costs. Lao law makes little distinction between personal use and trafficking and any conviction will result in heavy fines and expulsion at best and imprisonment or even execution at worst. Methamphetamine is widespread and often offered in "special" or "happy" shakes along the backpacker trail. Be extremely cautious of tuk-tuk drivers offering to sell you drugs, as they often collaborate with the police or a police impersonator to "shake down" (500 USD is the common "fine") unsuspecting tourists. Keep in mind that oftentimes Lao police dress as civilians.
The Lao PDR criminal code penalties for producing, trafficking, distributing, possessing, importing or exporting are:
  • Heroin: up to life imprisonment and 10 million kip (USD1,316) fine; death penalty for possession of over 500 g.
  • Chemical substance: up to 20 years imprisonment 50 million kip (USD6,578) fine
  • Amphetamines: up to 5 years imprisonment and 7 million kip (USD921) fine
  • Opium: up to 15 years imprisonment and 30 million kip (USD3,947) fine; death penalty for possession of quantities over 3 kg
  • Marijuana: up to 10 years imprisonment and 20 million kip (USD2,631) fine; death penalty for quantities over 10 kg
  • Criticism of the Lao government or the Communist Party in any way, shape or form is unwise; you never know who might be listening.
  • Landmines or unexploded ordnance left over from the Vietnam War maims or kills hundreds of people every year as Laos is the most bombed country in history. Almost all of these occur in the eastern and northern parts of the country, especially near the border with Vietnam. Never enter areas marked as minefields and travel only on paved roads and well-worn paths. If you are unsure of which areas are safe, ask the locals.
  • Fake products are very common. Laos is one place where Chinese or Thai companies dump sub-standard products. Similar to Myanmar, there are few if any laws preventing such trade.

Stay healthy

Parts of Laos have a good deal of malaria so anti-malarials are recommended if visiting those areas for an extended period, but check with health professionals: there are many high incidence of drug-resistant parasites around Laos. Other mosquito-born diseases, such as dengue, can be life-threatening, so make sure you bring at least 25% DEET insect repellent and ensure that you sleep with mosquito protection like nets or at least a fan. Vientiane seems to be malaria-free but not dengue fever-free. The mosquitoes that are active during the day carry dengue and those that are active in the evening carry malaria. Note that 25% DEET insect repellents are almost impossible to find in Laos, so be sure to bring some from your country.

The usual precautions regarding food and water are needed. Bottled water are widely available but almost all of them are less-filtered.

Vientiane has several medical clinics are associated with European embassies. Otherwise, you probably have to go to Thailand for better treatment of serious injuries and illnesses. Udon Thani and Chiang Mai are generally recommended; they're only a few hours away, depending on your location in Laos. Ubon Ratchathani and Chiang Rai might have suitable clinics, as well, and there's Bangkok, of course. Expatriates in Laos probably have the best information; the more upscale hotels can be good resources, as well.

Medical travel insurance is strongly recommended. According to local newspapers, Laos government is eager to launch improvement plans of water and foods quality.

HIV

Laos had a HIV rate of 0.3% of population in 2014.

Respect

Dress respectfully (long trousers, sleeved shirts) when visiting temples and take your shoes off before entering temple buildings and private houses.

As with other Buddhist countries, showing the soles of your feet is very poor manners. Never touch any person on the head. Despite prevalent cheap alcohol, being drunk is considered disrespectful and a loss of face.

Things in Laos happen slowly and rarely as scheduled. Keep your cool, as the natives will find humour in any tourist showing anger. They will remain calm, and venting your anger will make everybody involved lose face and is certainly not going to expedite things, particularly if dealing with government bureaucracy.

Buddhist monks

As in neighbouring Thailand and Cambodia, Theravada Buddhism is the dominant religion in Laos, meaning that respect for monks is part of Lao life and that monks take their duties seriously. Monks are forbidden to touch or be touched by women. Therefore, women should place any offerings on a piece of cloth on the ground in front of a monk so he can pick it up. Monks are also forbidden from accepting or touching money, and offering money to a monk is considered to be disrespectful in the local culture. Should you wish to donate, you should only offer food to the monk. "Monks" who hang out at tourist spots soliciting donations, or those that accept money, are imposters. Monks are also not allowed to eat solid foods after noon, and will stop alms gathering before then. Some undertake a vow of silence, and will not answer you even if they can understand and speak English. It is best not to compel them to stand next to you for a photograph, or try to start a conversation if they seem reluctant.

Connect

Laos phone numbers have the format +856 20 654 321 where "856" is the country code for Laos. Numbers starting with 20 are mobile numbers, while all others are landlines.

  • Laos Country Code is "+856".
  • International Call Prefix is "00".
  • Laos Call Prefix is "0".
  • Laos articles here use the convention "+856 xx xxxxxx" except for emergency numbers which use local format with leading zero, "0xx xxxxxx"

Internet cafés can be found in larger towns, however access speeds are usually painfully slow and cafe staffs have less knowledge. The most reliable connections are in Vientiane, and usually cost around 100 kip/minute, with the cheapest offering 4,000 kip/hour. However, Internet security is not guaranteed and computer viruses are abundant.

In most cases, Wi-Fi is the best option. Most Western-style cafés offer free Wi-Fi-access for customers. Most accommodations, even budget places in Vientiane, offer free Wi-Fi.

GPRS via mobile phone is also an option, especially if you have a local or Thai SIM, for those who intend to stay longer term and require mobile Internet.

Mobile phone usage in Laos has mushroomed, with four competing GSM operators. Two of these offer roaming services. Calling people on the same network is always cheaper than calling another network, but there is no clear market leader. Tourist and expats tend to prefer Tigo or M-phone (Laotel), while locals use any of the four networks.

  • Lao Telecom has agreements with some 30 international networks. See roaming with Lao Telecom.
  • Beeline (formerly known as Tigo) has agreements with over 100 International phone networks. See roaming with Tigo. Another popular choice, they also have low-cost international rate of 2000 kip/minute to many countries, if you buy their SIM card and dial "177" instead of "+".
  • ETL Mobile is known to have better coverage in rural and remote parts of Laos. However, in Laos "better" certainly does not mean "everywhere". They seem to have low-cost international call service. [1] .
  • Unitel or starphone (the old name of this network) is also available.

Local prepaid SIM cards can be purchased in various shops and stores without any paperwork.

As another options, there is Thai GSM coverage close to the Thai border (including a significant part of Vientiane), and Thai SIM cards and top-up cards can be bought in Laos; in addition, DeeDial International Call Cards are available. Thus, if you already have a Thai number, you can use the generally cheaper Thai network and/or avoid buying one more SIM. However, beware - if you have a Thai SIM which has International Roaming activated it will connect to a Lao network when the Thai network is not available, and the roaming charges will be significantly higher.

Postal service in Laos is slow, but generally reliable. Other paid options such as Fed Express, DHL, and EMS exist in various locations. Though these services are much more expensive, they are more reliable.

The Amateur Traveler talks to Sam Oppenheim (who has previously been on the show talking about trekking in the Himalayas and traveling to Cuba) about travel to Laos. Sam Visited Laos as part of a year spent traveling around the world when he traveled extensively in Asia. Sam’s itinerary included the capital of Vientiane as well as Luang Prabang, trekking in the hill villages around Luang namtha and cruising on the Mekong River near Nong Khiaw. Along the way Sam photographed monks, children and little bottles of alcohol with snakes in them. Discover this beautiful country through Sam’s stories and through his lens.

Kate in Senggigi

What does budget travel mean to you?

For some of my friends, it means downgrading to a three-star hotel instead of a luxury property. For others, it’s giving up their private rooms for hostel dorms.

Budget travel is unique to everyone. The broadest definition of budget travel is being financially conscious during your travels.

I asked my Facebook fans a question: how low-budget would you go? Hostel dorms? Couchsurfing? Never eating in a restaurant, ever? They had a lot of great answers and I’ve included them throughout this post.

Leon Nicaragua

Extreme Budget Travel

I define extreme budget travel — or what I like to call traveling “on the hobo” — as traveling while spending the least amount of money possible.

“I had some Couchsurfers come stay with me that are doing a long term trip with a $0 budget for accommodation. If they can’t find CS hosts they camp. One was sleeping in temples in Myanmar. He said his average is $5/day but oftentimes only spends $3. They also only hitchhike everywhere.” –Nathan

Accommodation? Free only. Couchsurfing or camping in their own tent or van. Possibly sleeping in churches, temples or mosques. Free lodging via working gigs. Hostel dorms if there’s no other option.

Transportation? Free or very cheap only. Hitchhiking or traveling in their own vehicle. If anything, an occasional bus ride or public transit.

Food? Cheap only. Supermarket fare or cheap street food. No restaurants, ever. Maybe an occasional takeaway kebab.

Attractions? Free only. In cities, walking around and taking photos, enjoying free museums and attractions. In the countryside, hiking and exploring. Forget about paying for a ticket.

How to get by? Working from time to time. WWOOFing, Workaway gigs, working in hostels or bars, busking, random gigs along the way.

And while there are occasional exceptions, the above is largely how extreme budget travelers spend their time on the road.

Here are some examples:

We Visited Over 50 Countries In Our Van Spending Just $8 Per Day

This is How a Guy Traveled Through Southeast Asia On Just $10 Per Day

I just came back from a 5-months travel. I’ve done hitch-hiked over 15 000km, and have been living as a homeless for pretty much 4 months.

Amman Skyline

The Pros of Extreme Budget Travel

Travel longer. See more. The less you spend, the more time you have to see everything the world has to offer. The price you would pay for a midrange two-week trip could grow into a multi-month extravaganza when traveling on the hobo.

Enjoying the same sights at a fraction of the price. Nobody charges you to walk through the piazzas of Florence, nor do you pay anything to enjoy the white sand beaches of Boracay. It feels awesome to look around and know that you paid far less than everyone else!

Expensive destinations aren’t off-limits. One thing I noticed was that extreme budget travelers don’t shy away from expensive countries. You find just as many extreme budget travelers in Norway and Australia as you do in Laos and India.

“Curiously enough it’s easier to spend less in expensive countries. It’s easier to say no to a $25 hotel room and camp, than to say no to a $5 hotel room and camp. In Europe I’d go camping and couchsurfing all the time out of necessity, but here in Asia I’d happily pay for accommodation, because it’s cheaper. But of course that adds up and in the end I pay more. I remember spending 6 months in the US and Canada and I spend $0 on accommodation. :D” –Meph248 on Reddit

Having more local experience. You’ll get to know locals more intimately, whether it means couchsurfing in locals’ homes, working with locals, hitchhiking with locals, or shopping at the local markets. Plenty of travelers will pass through the same town without having a conversation with someone who wasn’t a waiter or hostel employee.

The time of your life — on very little cash. You’ll have great stories to tell your kids someday!

“I did $5 a day while touring the Balkans for a month. I managed! -Free lodging and food by volunteering at a hostel (even had my own room at the top floor) -Free private beach access through a guy I was seeing -Free drinks every night at the bar across the street because the owner swore I was Serena Williams

That about covers all bases! Lol” –Gloria, The Blog Abroad

The possibility of extending your trip indefinitely. If you pick up enough paid gigs in between, you can keep on traveling forever. This especially works well if you pick up gigs, either officially or under the table, in high-paying countries like Australia.

Bay of Kotor, Montenegro

The Pitfalls of Extreme Budget Travel

Reduced safety. If you don’t have funds allocated for accommodation or private transportation, what happens when none of the Couchsurfing hosts in town appeal to you? What happens if your bus is delayed, you show up in Tegucigalpa late at night, and you can’t afford a cab to your accommodation?

Not having money for instances like these sacrifices your safety.

“I would never want to absolutely rely on couchsurfing for the whole of my trip. I couchsurf where I can but when I can’t find a decent host I book a hostel. I think when you get too desperate to couchsurf you end up pushing the safety limit a bit and staying with dubious people.” –Britt, Adventure Lies in Front

Just how bad can the result be? Read this heartbreaking post by Trish on Free Candie.

Missing cool activities and social events. You meet a cool group of fellow travelers and they’re all going whitewater rafting. They want you to join — but you can’t do that. And sure, you can walk across the Sydney Harbour Bridge if the $300 Bridgeclimb is out of your price range, but would you go to Leon, Nicaragua, and skip $30 volcano boarding? What about a $5 wine tasting in a Tuscan town? And even if it’s just a $4 hostel shuttle to the beach, which all your friends from the hostel are taking, you’re stuck on the much longer 25-cent local bus.

Less exposure to local cuisine. Yes, there’s fresh produce and markets and supermarkets can be their own adventure, but if you’re making pasta in the hostel every night, you’re missing out on one of the best parts of traveling — the food.

“As a student in EU having a long-term schengen visa on a third-world passport, I think I have hit the bottom after sleeping at airports, night buses, railway stations, common areas of hostels. taking pictures of food in local markets and then coming back to cook pasta in hostel kitchen :-(” –Anshul

No backup savings. In the event of an emergency — say, you need to fly home for the funeral of a dear friend — you don’t have the cash to do so. Most of the time, travel insurance will only reimburse you if it’s a member of your immediate family.

Isolation and discomfort. If you’re not comfortable in your accommodation, you have fewer options and may be far from the city center or tourist zone. If you’re limited with money, you can’t just pick up and leave — you might need to stick it out for at least a night.

“Ive couchsurfed once and they tried to convert me to their religion so i just left.” –Christipede

No alone time. If you’re a natural extrovert, this probably won’t be an issue, but traveling on the hobo requires you to socialize with lots of people on a daily basis, especially if you’re couchsurfing. If you’re an introvert, you’ll have difficulties carving out alone time to relax your mind. (Camping solo is one way around this, however.)

Mooching off others. Conversely, depending on others day after day can wear away at you. Sure, you can help cook and clean, or play music, and you know you’ll pay it back to other travelers someday, but you might get uncomfortable having strangers host and feed you for free on a regular basis.

“It’s funny. I’m open to going extremely low budget. As long as I can be self-reliant about it. Meaning I’d rather sleep (legally or semi-legally) on an abandoned beach or in a corner of a park than ask for someone’s couch. This is strange, I know, since the spirit of travel is tied so intrinsically into the good will of others. I guess I’d rather rely on others for their company (and their rum!) and then slip off to my tent for the night.” –Bring Limes

Resentment. Is this the trip you had in mind? Is this even the kind of trip you’d want? Wouldn’t you rather be in a nice hotel room, eating in restaurants, doing cool activities, and not having to work every now and then? After weeks of depriving yourself, over and over, you could end up feeling resentful. It might not be worth the savings.

“I feel like [extreme budget travel] would detract from the travel experience itself. If I was wrapped up in my head worrying about money and a budget the whole time it would take away from experiences. I certainly don’t travel luxuriously, but I choose to travel within my means without missing out on things.” –Megan, Forks and Footprints

Blue Night Shadows

A Lot of People Think They Can Do This

I’m an avid Redditor but don’t comment often. What makes me comments are posts like these:

“Me and my cousin are going on a trip in 2015 for 16 months around SE Asia. we plan on visiting 19 countries in that time: Bangladesh, China, Cambodia, India, Indonesia, Japan, Laos, Malaysia, Mongolia, Myanmar, Nepal, Philippines, Singapore, South Korea, Sri lanka, Tawain, Thailand, Vietnam, Bhutan

We dont really know what months to go to the different countries and theres not much info online about it, so im asking you we kind of want summer all the time around. Also what places should we see in different countries? Im thinking that 12k USD will be enough for this trip? no including air fare, is that close to accurate?”

Oh God.

First of all, no, $12K will not be nearly enough. I really hope he meant $12K each, because even $24k for two would not be enough for a trip like that, especially with countries like Bhutan and Japan on the list. The only way it would be possible would be through extreme budget travel, and just the idea of traveling that way for 16 months makes me want to curl into a ball and hide.

I get emails all the time from travelers who want to travel as long and as much as possible, so they squish their budget down to the bare minimum. They tell me that yeah, they really want to see as much as possible, so they’re going to couchsurf and camp and they’ll be able to stretch their trip to as long as possible. I give them advice, wish them luck, tell them to buy travel insurance.

Some of them end up traveling this way — and have a fabulous, life-changing trip. Others end up miserable and return home much sooner than planned.

My worry about these travelers is that they won’t end up enjoying themselves on what should be the trip of a lifetime. I believe that far more people think they can handle long-term extreme budget travel than can actually handle this style of travel on a long-term basis.

It doesn’t help that traveling on the hobo is romanticized in popular culture, complete with scenes of waking up on a farm in Provence, harvesting olives all day, then having huge dinners with wine every night before hopping on a train to the next idyllic destination.

In short, it’s fun to travel on the hobo if you’re doing it for fun. It’s not so fun if you’re doing it because you can’t afford anything else.

Bike Lady in Ferrara

Special Concerns for Women Travelers

I feel like there needs to be an asterisk when talking about extreme budget travel as a woman. Just like there needs to be an asterisk with almost every kind of travel.

If you haven’t read Why Travel Safety Is Different For Women, please read it now.

In that piece, I talk about how women are attuned to the risk of sexual assault every minute of every day. It never leaves our minds, and each day we make dozens of micro-decisions for the sake of self-protection. For that reason, we need to be extra careful when it comes to extreme budget travel.

“extreme budget travel is a luxury that men can have I think. as a woman, I always need to have a little extra to get myself out of a bad guesthouse or take taxis rather than walk. I’m sure some women have managed it, but i wouldn’t feel safe on a low low budget. I usually budget $50/day with an extra $500/month of travel, although I rarely use it all. it gives me enough cushion to get a single room rather than share a dorm with just one man, etc.” –Lily

Camping alone or sleeping outside leaves us vulnerable to sexual assault.

Staying in a sketchy guesthouse with a badly locking door leaves us vulnerable to sexual assault.

Hitchhiking with strangers leaves us vulnerable to sexual assault.

Taking public transportation in a rough city at night leaves us vulnerable to sexual assault.

Accepting food and drinks prepared by Couchsurfing hosts leaves us vulnerable to sexual assault.

That doesn’t mean that women can’t do extreme budget travel — I know women who do it and love it. I know that some take extra precautions, like carrying pepper spray and a knife. And even then, many of them have done so safely; most of them have only had a few scary but ultimately non-dangerous incidents, like I have.

But it doesn’t mean that the risk isn’t there. You need to evaluate that risk closely.

Kyoto Apartment

It’s Not For Everyone

If you want to try out extreme budget travel and you think you would enjoy it, go for it! I’m happy for people to travel in any way they’d like, as long as it’s not harmful to others.

There are plenty of people for whom extreme budget travel is a great choice. And they’re a surprisingly diverse group of people.

My issue with it is that I think a lot of people underestimate how difficult it is to live this way on a long-term basis. In short, it’s not for as many people who think it’s for them. So many people attempt it, burn out, and leave their trip with regrets.

Costa Brava Mountains

Short-Term Extreme Budget Travel

What if you only did the extreme budget travel thing for a shorter time? Say, for a two-week trip or just for a month or two out of a yearlong RTW trip? What if you just did it when you traveled in Australia and went back to spending more money in Southeast Asia?

I think that’s actually a very smart idea. This way, you get to try it out, reduce costs in the most expensive destinations, and see if you are interested in doing it long-term.

“I don’t mind dorms for cheap travel, although a few weeks is the max I could do that without at least a few nights in a private. I’m planning to couch surf and WWOOFing a lot in Japan, since I want to go for a while without spending thousands and thousands. I can’t live on that low though- it’s boring to only have enough to eat and stay in the hostel!” –Alexandria

Marigolds in Pienza

How to Maintain Your Sanity While Traveling on the Hobo

Don’t be penny-wise and pound-foolish. Walking a mile out of the way for loaves of bread that cost 20 cents less is the definition of insanity. Instead, reduce your big expenses like accommodation and transportation, or stick to cheap countries.

Travel slower. Spending more time in fewer destinations will majorly cut down your costs. When you spend longer in a destination, you’ll get to know the cheaper places, you’ll spend less time sightseeing, and your transportation costs will be lower.

Stick to cheaper regions — not just cheaper countries. Most people consider Thailand a cheap country but don’t take into account that the beach resorts in the south are MUCH more expensive than the rest of the country. Stick to rural, less-visited areas for lower costs. In Thailand, you’ll find the cheapest prices in the north.

Set up a separate bank account for splurges. Use it for special activities like seeing Angkor Wat, getting scuba certified, or having a restaurant meal in a fabulous food region.

Plan on getting private accommodation every few weeks or so. Just a few days in a room to yourself will make you feel so much better, especially if you’re an introvert.

Have a re-entry fund saved up and don’t touch it. This is money to cushion your return home. How much do you need? Depends on your situation. Some people like to have enough to secure a new apartment and pay for a few months of frugal expenses; others just need a thousand dollars or so. The choice is yours.

Don’t scrimp on travel insurance. Even if you’re committed to spending as little as possible, you don’t want to put yourself in a position where you weigh your health against saving money. Not to mention that it will save your ass financially in the event that you get severely injured and need an air ambulance to another country. I use and recommend World Nomads.

Leaving the Generalife

One Last Tip: Check Your Privilege

When you’ve been traveling on the hobo for awhile, there will be dark days. You’ll be down to your last few dollars and unable to eat anything but rice and pasta. You’ll be tired. You’ll be lonely. You’ll be treading water and you won’t know when you’ll earn enough to leave town.

This happens to all travelers. We all go through tough times, but extreme budget travelers are additionally vulnerable because of their lack of money.

Even when you’re at your lowest, it’s important to remember that you hold enormous privilege. You’re living this lifestyle by choice, and you’ve experienced far more than the vast majority of the world will ever be able to.

Don’t refer to yourself as poor. Don’t take food donations meant for the needy. And for the love of God, don’t compare yourself to the homeless.

Instead, practice gratitude each day. Be kind. Use what you’ve learned to create a better life for everyone you meet, both on the road and at home.

And if you choose to settle down for some time — whether it’s just for a few weeks or something more permanent — open up your home to vagabonds like yourself. Feed them, give them a place to sleep, show them your favorite spots in town. It’s time to repay the kindness that you’ve been gifted on your journey.

Have you ever tried extreme budget travel? Did you enjoy it?The truth about extreme budget travel

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It seems like an unlikely venue to have a panic attack: the calm azure blue sea gently lapping against the stern of the small glass-bottomed boat, surrounded by happy and excited tourists, pulling on their flippers and splashing into the water, while the glorious sun beats down, making everything around sparkle like paradise.

But if I close my eyes now, I can feel the sensation I felt in that boat as I looked down at the swirling blue water. The panic starts, in my stomach first and then spiraling outwards to my fingers and my toes, and finally to my eyes, where it prickles and stings.

I can feel the water without getting in. I can sense it all around me, pulling me down. I can feel a rising sense of vertigo as my feet search desperately for something to stand on, but find only cold darkness beneath. I can already feel the sting of the water in my mouth, my nose, my eyes and my lungs, and I can see the boat leaving me, stranded and alone.

This is me, on a boat off the coast of Gili Trawangan in Indonesia, having traveled thousands of miles to experience new things, face to face with my deepest fear: the sea.

Pier Jump!

Pier Jump! © Jim & Claire

Choosing a Path With More Resistance

I had always felt that I lived my life in fear. With the exception of my terror at the thought of drowning, I didn’t suffer from any paralyzing phobias, but I was the owner of a million small neuroses that prevented me from doing so many things: fear of snakes, bacteria, traffic, spiders, bugs, parasites, heights … I could go on.

But worse than this, I was afraid of taking any risks with my life. Like so many people, I had chosen the easy route rather than face the unknown; from university to my career, I chose the path of least resistance. In the end, I felt that it was destroying me from the inside out — I could picture a life mapped out ahead of me that offered no surprises.

Then, on a particularly grey and miserable Monday morning – just another in a long succession of grey and miserable Mondays – everything changed. I opened my inbox to discover the arrival of an email intriguingly titled “adventure in Borneo?” With my curiosity suitably piqued and a strong craving for vitamin D, I read the message with an uncharacteristically open mind.

The invitation was to help a friend build an eco-lodge in jungle of Borneo. Sadly, the project itself didn’t quite pan out, but the strong desire I felt to do something as reckless as go and live in the jungle for three months was an epiphany. I needed out. Out of the corporate world, out of my consumer products addiction; and most of all, out of the comfortable bubble of my life.

And so it was that in the space of two weeks, I quit my job, gave up my flat, sold all my worldly belongings, and began to beg, borrow and steal enough money to run away to Asia.

It has now been over five months since I gave up everything I had ever known, waved goodbye to my friends, family, and hair straighteners, and boarded a plane to experience something completely different.

A Thousand Tiny Steps

When I first stepped off the plane and into the excruciating heat of Kuala Lumpur, I was bursting at the seams with confidence and gagging to try new and exciting things. I had thought that overcoming the fear of the unknown, finding the strength to do something so completely different from anything else I had ever done, would give me freedom from all my other neurotic little phobias.

I was wrong.

Each step of my journey I have found something new and terrifying — from the venomous viper snakes sleeping outside my tent in the jungle of Borneo, to climbing to the top of an angry, smoking volcano and peering into the crater on Java. From stepping onto my first motorbike, and feeling the power course through my body as I navigated dirt tracks in Northern Laos, to witnessing the exotic long neck women in Thailand’s hill tribes.

I thought that I could make a great leap to conquer all my fears in one go; instead, traveling has made me realize that you have to face each small battle one at a time, taking tiny steps until you are at the precipice of your fear and have no choice but to jump over the edge.

Staircase to Where, Dubai Staircase to Where, Dubai © Untitled blue

Facing Your Fears

Finding the strength to do the things that terrify you isn’t easy — it’s a constant battle between the voice of reason and the demons that make your stomach do somersaults. But somehow, being so far from home, both mentally as well as physically, makes it more possible. Having already done something as unreasonable as giving up all I have ever known and owned, the voice of reason suddenly came into it’s own with a very good argument:

“Why come all this way just to watch?”

If you let it, traveling can give you the push you need to do the things you never thought you could. When you’re in the comfort zone of home, the prospect of doing something scary isn’t very tempting; you can find excuses with ease; you can tell yourself you have better things to do; you can procrastinate until opportunities wither and fade. But for me, being on the other side of the world and surrounded by the unfamiliar, taking the plunge is almost mandatory, because if I don’t, how can I justify all I have given up to be in that place, in that moment?

For some people that moment can be staring into the sky before jumping out of a plane, others feel shivers of horror down their spine when faced with eating something strange and exotic; for me, the moment was looking into the cool blue sea and quite literally diving in head first.

Seeing a Different World

Facing my fears gave me a wonderful gift. The gift of seeing fish that looked like rainbows, shimmering in an array of iridescent colors. The feeling of wonder as striped yellow and black fish swimming like tigers against the coral reef swarmed around me and giant sea turtles swam beneath my amazed eyes.

When I put my head under the water I was given a whole new world — a world where fish can look like tigers and rainbows can swim.

The more fears I have faced, the more my life has felt like a series of gifts handed to me. I have seen and done more than I imagined was possible — but the best gift of all is that for the first time, every part of me feels alive.

The post Taking the Plunge: How to Conquer Your Fears Through Travel appeared first on Vagabondish.

35 of the world’s best places to travel in 2017

       

With so much negativity in the media, the world is often portrayed as risky, dangerous. And yet as travelers we learn the same lesson over and over: Preconceived notions of places and cultures are almost always wrong.

The world is, in fact, safer, more hospitable, more open and accepting than non-travelers could ever imagine. If only people everywhere could realize that on the opposite side of the globe are people not so different, so foreign, as they might believe.

Let’s make 2017 the year of traveling fearlessly. These places are just starting points. The next step is taking action. We hope to see you on the road.

       

1. Jordan

 

1. Jordan

Completely safe oasis isolated from the instability of the region

Jordan is a place of supernatural beauty. Imagine Yosemite as a desert with super luxury tented camps. That’s a bit how Wadi Rum feels. And Petra is so ancient you could use the Bible as your guidebook rather than a Lonely Planet. Beyond these obvious destinations, there’s also Al Salt, Jarash, and Amman. Travel here with an open mind, and get ready for and a hospitality that will blow away any expectations. Photo by Scott Sporleder.

       

2. Los Angeles

 

2. Los Angeles

Epicenter of Southern California with quick access to nature

LA has it all. The food options, historic sites, and outdoor access are enough to make you forget the 45-minute drives it takes to reach them. Your best bet (as always) is to hook up with locals (try travelstoke if you don’t know anyone there), and plan your travels around different neighborhoods. Photo by Scott Sporleder.

       

3. Yucatán Peninsula

 

3. Yucatán Peninsula, Mexico

No-worries area of Mexico with luxury haciendas in the middle of the jungle

Beyond Chichen Itzá are other lesser known Mayan ruins worth exploring throughout the region, along with the cenotes, as well as world-class diving (the world’s second largest coral reef after the Great Barrier Reef, is on the Carribean side of Mexico) and beaches. Of special note is Rosas y Chocolate, one of the top urban hotels in all of Mexico, pictured above.

       

4. Sisimiut, Greenland

 

4. Sisimiut, Greenland

Above the Arctic Circle, and almost like dropping off the map

Sisimiut is the second-largest town in Greenland. 5,500 people live on a tiny, rocky promontory just north of the Arctic Circle. If you are lucky enough to travel to Greenland, your goal should be connecting with locals and getting invited to a kaffemik. These are celebrations such as birthdays or weddings, and guests may can come anytime you want and leave whenever they feel like it. Photo by Greenland Travel.

       

5. Península Valdés, Argentina

 

5. Península Valdés, Argentina

The overlooked part of Patagonia, with stunning marine wildlife

The stark, windswept, and seldom-visited Atlantic coast of Patagonia has intense concentrations of wildlife with its epicenter at Peninsula Valdes. Each year between June and December is the Southern Right Whale migration. Throughout the year are other wildlife viewing possibilities, including Magellanic penguins, and elephant seals. Awesome family adventure. Image: Matiasso

       

6. Hamburg

 

6. Hamburg, Germany

Harbor city unlike anywhere else in Germany

Hamburg is more fish than sausage and more tea than beer. It’s home to one of Germany’s oldest red-light district, the Reeperbahn, where many musicians, like the Beatles, got their start. Explore the Speicherstadt, attend the Hamburger Dom, or check out a Sankt Pauli soccer game; Hamburg’s notoriously rowdy soccer team. Image: Nick Sheerbart

       

7. Faroe Islands

 

7. Faroe Islands

Otherworldly North Atlantic escape

Off in the North Atlantic somewhere between Iceland and Norway, this group of 18 islands is like a dream world: dramatic sea stacks, well-trodden hiking trails, and cosmopolitan small cities with great food scenes. The country has incredible infrastructure with most islands connected by bridge or undersea tunnel. For those islands not connected by road, there are fast ferries and subsidized helicopter transport. Photo by Stefan Klopp.

       

8. Auckland

 

8. Auckland, New Zealand

Ultimate urban backpacker hub for exploring wilderness and beaches

Auckland is one of the largest cities by land area in the world, with plenty of natural reserves, surf spots, and Maori cultural experiences throughout and surrounding the city. There’s also a great cafe culture. It’s a perfect base for exploring both coasts of NZ’s North Island. Photo by Rulo Luna.

       

9. Dominical, Costa Rica

 

9. Dominical, Costa Rica

Surf, yoga, and natural foods paradise within easy reach

Out of all the places in Costa Rica that should’ve gotten overrun with mass tourism, Dominical has been spared. It remains a small, uncrowded town with a super cool expat scene and awesome restaurants. There are exceptional AirBnb properties overlooking nearby Domincalito (as well as in town). For surfing, Dominical is almost never flat. Photo: Blaze Nowara.

       

10.Montreal

 

10. Montreal, Canada

Multicultural city with world-class paddling options and nightlife

2017 marks Montreal’s 375th anniversary, and the city plans to celebrate all year. Join in for a big party and some birthday cake on May 17, the official date that the city was founded on. Culturally diverse Montreal will also welcome you with free festivals, concerts, cultural activities, exhibitions, foodie events, tastings, tours, and theatrical performances. Photo: Michael Vesia.

       

11. Portmagee, Ireland

 

11. Portmagee, Ireland

Coastal Irish village with access to ancient sites

Portmagee is both a rad little village on its own, and the departure point for Skellig Michael. Take a ferry there, hang with puffins and dolphins all day, enjoy seafood caught steps away at the family owned Moorings Guesthouse while listening to traditional Irish song and dance and lulled to sleep by the ocean. Photo by Tony Webster.

       

12. Belfast, Maine

 

12. Belfast, Maine

Scenic seaport on Penobscot Bay, loaded with architectural treasures and historic districts

Belfast is known for welcoming the back-to-the-land movement of the ’70s. It gets a lot of credit for the craft beers of Marshall Wharf, Delvino’s authentic Italian food, served in an old hardware store, and the many local farmers who’ve taken the torch from those revolutionary back-to-the-landers and are fueling the city’s sustainable food movement. Photo by Bruce C. Cooper.

       

13. Havana

 

13. Havana, Cuba

Rapidly transitioning nation grounded in Caribbean culture and vibrancy

 

Cuba has been among the hottest places to travel for our staff at Matador, with reports always containing two elements: 1. People have more fun there than anywhere else they’ve been in years, and 2. The wifi is the worst they’ve found anywhere (Correlation anyone?). On a recent filmmaking journey, it was noted: “Everyone here has rocking chairs. This is place where people know how to chill.”

       

14. New York City

 

14. New York City

An energy unrivaled anywhere in the world

With so many things to do and places to see, NYC can be quite disorienting for a first-time visitor, which you should just accept as part of the experience. The quintessential walking city, stroll the Highline, Brooklyn bridge, and Riverside Park. Photo by Jaden D.

       

15. Franklin, Tennessee

 

15. Franklin, Tennessee

Classic small town southern vibes and beautiful watershed

A short drive from Nashville, Franklin has a great small town vibe with their Main Street as the site of numerous festivals and the Harpeth River (and connected trails) flowing right through town. The upcoming September Pilgrimage Festival will be in its 3rd year, and with Justin Timberlake as producer, it is going to be awesome.

       

16. Durango

 

16. Durango, Colorado

Outdoor adventure hub in a region dotted with storybook towns

Durango is one of the raddest towns in the US with the powerful, free-flowing Animas River running deep through the San Juan Mountains and right through the city. World class ski resort + backcountry adventures via kayaks, skis/snowboard, and great events from Snowdown in January to the La Plata County Fair in August. Photo by Avery Woodard.

       

17. Abu Dhabi

 

17. Abu Dhabi, UAE

One of the best places in the world to experience Islamic culture

Abu Dhabi is a desert emirate, dotted with oasis towns, date farms, historic forts, natural reserves, mangroves, and dunes that have lured explorers throughout history. As one of the largest mosques on the planet, Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque receives pilgrims from all over the world during Eid celebrations. Outside of prayer times, it’s also open to non-Muslims and has free guided tours.

       

18. Seattle

 

18. Seattle

All in one foodie, art, music, and outdoor adventure destination

Seattle has been blowing up for the last two decades and continues to be one of the most interesting cultural centers in the US. But beyond the city itself, Seattle is special for its geography. Simply jump on a ferry for a day trip to the San Juan Islands or over to the Olympic Peninsula and you’re deep in coastal rainforests and mountain ranges–another world. Photo by Vincent Lock.

       

19. Sicily

 

19. Sicily, Italy

The Mediterranean’s largest island, rich in archeological sites and culture

Sicily has retained a strong sense of identity, and nowhere is it more enmeshed with the rich history than in the ancient walled neighborhood of Ortigia, in Siracusa. The high stone buildings and cobblestone streets give the sense of stepping back in time. Make sure to also hit up Mt. Etna (Europe’s tallest active volcano), Cefalù, and Taormina. Actually, just go everywhere. Photo by Scott Sporleder.

       

20. Varanasi

 

20. Varanasi, India

The cultural center of North India

According to Hindu mythology, Varanasi was founded by Lord Shiva. The city is one of the seven sacred cities of Hinduism. It is also a city surrounded by death. The biggest tourist attraction here is to witness the cremations that take place along the banks of the Ganges. Varanasi is Photo: Arushi Saini Photography.

       

21. St. Petersburg

 

21. St. Petersburg, Russia

Russia’s cultural capital

The historic districts of St. Petersburg comprise a UNESCO world heritage site, and the Hermitage is among the top museums in the world. Bar hop along the trendy Ruben Street and wander the massive Nevsky Prospekt main drag. Lastly, as Russia prepares to host the 2018 FIFA World Cup, St. Petersburg will serve as the backdrop for the 2017 Confederations Cup Final. Photo by Victor Bergmann.

       

22. Quebec City

 

22. Quebec City, Canada

While Canada is 150 years old in 2017, Quebec City dates back to 1608 and is like nowhere else in North America. The fortifications and French colonial stone buildings of the Old Town make you feel like you’ve travelled back in time. Photo by Julien Samson.

       

23. Charleston

 

23. Charleston, South Carolina

One of the most fun party weekends in the US

Take your time here in the Lowcountry. Have a meal at Hominy Grill, a sailboat ride up around Fort Sumter, spend an evening being touristy on King Street, and definitely take the short ride to Folly Beach. Sipping beers and eating seafood at Red’s Ice House overlooking the fishing boats on Shem Creek isn’t a bad way to spend an afternoon either. Photo by North Charleston.

       

24. Montreux

 

24. Montreux, Switzerland

The French Swiss city, surrounded by vineyards and towering alps

Belle Époque buildings overlook a long promenade along Lake Geneva, making Montreux one of the most picturesque places in the world. Every July is the Montreux Jazz Festival, which celebrated its 50th year in 2016. Photo by Karim Kanoun Photography.

       

25. Óbidos, Portugal

 

25. Óbidos, Portugal

Portugal’s scenic literary powerhouse near world class-surf

Once you’ve walked the 13th century streets, filled your bag with books and your stomach with bacalhau and vinho verde, you can drive 45 minutes to Lisbon or explore the area around Óbidos. Peniche, a surf paradise, is 25km away, and there’s a natural park (Parque Natural das Serras de Aire e Candeeiro) also nearby. Photo by lagrossemadame.

       

26. Pokhara, Nepal

 

26. Pokhara, Nepal

Nepal’s relaxing, fresh, and super close-to-nature second city

Nepal’s second city doesn’t rival the capital Kathmandu in many respects but it’s the hands-down winner for a relaxed vibe and adventure access. The hilltop viewpoint of Sarangkot is one of the best places in the world for paragliding; there are kilometers of trails just around Fewa Lake, and if you’re out of energy, Pokhara is an ideal place to chill out. Photo: Aalok dhakal.

       

27. Cabo San Lucas

 

27. Cabo San Lucas, Mexico

Works all ways: place to get waves, have family fun, or as a romantic getaway

Most people associate Cabo with spring break, tequila, and loud music. The scene has changed over the last few years, with the main attractions being nature wildlife, and classy upscale resorts. Photo: Ben Horton.

       

28. Nelson, Canada

 

28. Nelson, Canada

The friendliest little ski town in British Columbia

Nelson’s history includes the settlement of the pacifist Doukhobors from Russia as well as Vietnam draft dodgers, which played no small part in its progressive values and “hippie vibes.” Nelson has a thriving music, arts, and cultural scene, and a surprising amount of cafes, bars, restaurants and locally-owned shops for a city of only 10,000 people. Photo: Carlo Alcos.

       

29. Altér do Chão, Brazil

 

29. Altér do Chão, Brazil

The “Brazilian Caribbean” hidden in the Amazon jungle

This is the perfect place to explore the Amazon rainforest. You can go on day trips to see sloths, river dolphins, and other animals, and you can taste exotic fruits and food only found here there. If you go during the rainy season, Altér do Chão is super quiet, with a hippie-ish vibe. Photo by lubasi.

       

30. George Town, Malaysia

 

30. George Town, Malaysia

A mind-blowing combination of Chinese, Indian, and Malay cultures

Spice, herb, and fresh produce stands between colonial architecture and street art offers a sensational experience with the chatter of diverse languages, like being a walk away from India and China. Photo by Ah Wei (Lung Wei).

       

31. Luang Prabang, Laos

 

31. Luang Prabang, Laos

A relaxed introduction for newcomers to Asia

Hang gliding in Rio de Janiero was just one of those things I had to do. Back when I was a distracted student sketching maps of Brazil in the back of my math notebooks, I must have come across a guidebook or an early blog post that highlighted it as a top attraction — because while I can’t pinpoint where or when I first heard about it, hang gliding in Rio de Janiero has been a must in my mind for as long as I can remember.

Hang Gliding in Rio de Janeiro

Hang Gliding in Rio de Janeiro

Hang Gliding in Rio de Janeiro

Lucky for me, Heather was enthusiastically onboard. She was also, with very little convincing, wiling to wear matching Brazilian flag leggings with me. This is why I love Heather.

This wasn’t my first time testing gravity — I’ve been parasailing on Maui, hot air ballooning in Laos, sky diving on Oahu and helicoptering and prop-plane-ing all over the show. But it was my first time hang-gliding, and I have the nervous-yet-hilarious GoPro shots to prove it.

No, this is not the face of a girl who’s totally sold on the idea of running off a cliff.

Hang Gliding in Rio de Janeiro

Hang Gliding in Rio de Janeiro

Hang Gliding in Rio de Janeiro

Little time had passed since we were whisked from our hostel doorstep to the white sand beaches of São Conrado, the epicenter of hang gliding in Rio de Janiero. A strip of shops form a neat row, and we were directed into the appropriate one to sign waivers, pay about $10 in fees, and get matched up with an instructor. Then we were back in the van, winding our way up to the launch point in Tijuca National Park, the largest urban forest in the world.

Although I was incredibly impressed with how organized, efficient, double-checked and safety-focused the whole affair was, the idea of flinging myself off a mountain was starting to seem suspect. Despite of, or perhaps because of, the expression on my face, I was the first one called forward to fly, and after receiving the world’s shortest briefing — which literally consisted of “keep running until you don’t feel the ground under your feet anymore” — I started to sprint.

And soon I couldn’t feel the ground any more.

Hang Gliding in Rio de Janeiro

Hang Gliding in Rio de Janeiro

Hang Gliding in Rio de Janeiro

The adrenaline rush of the launch was overwhelming, but within moments my heart-rate returned to something resembling normal and I was struck how peaceful it was, up there among the clouds.

While I admired the view, my instructor expertly navigated us using the wind. That’s the beauty of tandem — you pretty much have your own private air chauffeur and you can just kick back and focus on making thumbs up signs and flashing peace fingers at the camera. (Why, Universe, why is must this be my default?)

Hang Gliding in Rio de Janeiro

Hang Gliding in Rio de Janeiro

Hang Gliding in Rio de Janeiro

Hang Gliding in Rio de Janeiro

Rio de Janiero has no shortage of incredible views, but these were particularly impressive. Not only could we make out our friend Christo Redentor in the distance, but we also had front row seats for Pão de Acuçar, the lush Mata Atlantica forest, and of course the white sands of several of the city’s most famous beaches.

We also had a poignant vantage point of Rio’s infamous gap between extreme poverty and opulent wealth. In one direction, we gazed at the infamous Rocinha Favela; in other, the ocean-front mansions of São Conrado. If you do want a voyeuristic look at the houses (and pools!) of Brazil’s rich and famous, you can’t ask for a better bird’s eye view.

 

Hang Gliding in Rio de Janeiro

Hang Gliding in Rio de Janeiro

Hang Gliding in Rio de Janeiro

The final challenge? Landing. Again, on my part it involved little more than simply running till I was told not to. For an “adventure sport,” I was sure taking it easy up there.

 

Hang Gliding in Rio de Janeiro

Hang Gliding in Rio de Janeiro

Hang Gliding in Rio de Janeiro

And then we were back on land — or sand, rather. While my instructor took care of our harnesses and rig, I ordered up two fresh coconuts and waited to cheer Heather’s landing on.

 

Hang Gliding in Rio de Janeiro

Hang Gliding in Rio de Janeiro

She rocked it! Once reunited, we giddily recounted every moment of our experiences, and gave ourselves some serious high-fives for checking another adrenaline rush off our travel wish lists.

Unfortunately, we soon encountered our one and only complaint about the tour we’d booked. We carefully selected a package that said “photos and videos included,” and technically, there were some photos and videos included, our instructors explained to us while we perfected our mutual RBFs. The gliders are set up with two GoPros, and the included photos and video clips are from only the front camera. The side camera shots will run you an extra 100R (around $32USD). Also, they give them to you on a DVD unless you pony up 20R (around $7 USD) extra for a USB or memory card.

Considering we were traveling with approximately twenty-seven USB sticks and memory cards between us, we were pretty annoyed we hadn’t been given a heads up in order to bring our own. And we were extremely irritated that the photography exclusions weren’t clear when we booked. I begrudgingly paid for the extra photos, which to his credit my instructor gave to me on memory card that he didn’t charge me for to smooth out the situation.Considering it was a very experience experience, being nickeled-and-dimed at the end didn’t feel good.  It definitely left a bitter taste in our mouths to feel like we’d been mislead, so if you’re heading to Rio and booking a hang gliding package, just clarify exactly what’s included before hand.

Hang Gliding in Rio de Janeiro

Hang Gliding in Rio de Janeiro

Three hours later, we were back where we started on the steps of our hostel. Our photo frustrations aside, I loved this experience and would recommend our tour package. The ease of transportation (our driver offered to drop us at Ipanema or Copacabana beaches if we preferred, which was lovely), the efficiency with which we got up and off the mountain and the high safety standards all left us impressed.

After so many years of anticipation, and so many other amazing adrenaline-inducing experiences in between, it would have been easy to be let down by this one. But nope, hang gliding in Rio de Janiero lived up to every math class I ever daydreamed about it through.

Hang Gliding in Rio de Janeiro

Hang Gliding in Rio de Janeiro

As I told Heather that morning… it’s a beautiful day to leap off a cliff!

3-devide-lines

I am a member of the Viator Ambassador initiative and participated in this tour as part of that program. This post contains affiliate links for which I earn a small percentage of any sale made at absolutely no cost to you. Thank you for supporting Alex in Wanderland!

My daughter isn't really into travel

Photo: Allef Vinicius

I’m a travel writer and editor and all-around wanderlust junkie. I guess I had always assumed that any kids of mine would turn out the same. While my 14-year-old daughter Stella looks to be heading down the backpacker/travel writer path and will probably put my extensive travels to shame one day, my 16-year-old daughter just isn’t that into it. She would rather hit up Lollapalooza than Laos, would rather check out the shopping mall than the Sahara. It confuses me, it annoys me, but here’s how I have learned to deal:

Just because she has other priorities now doesn’t mean they won’t change.

People change, that’s a given. Just because she isn’t interested in travel right now doesn’t mean that something won’t spark it for her later. Maybe it will be a boyfriend who invites her on a romantic surf trip to Uruguay. Maybe it will be accompanying her best friend on a rowdy road trip to Buenos Aires. Maybe it will be her dream job offer that happens to take her to Thailand.

It’s passion that I want to see her have. It doesn’t necessarily matter for what.

Travel makes me feel alive. It makes me feel like I am growing and learning. It makes me feel both independent and it makes me feel like I have community. I want my daughter to feel all of these things, and maybe she will because of her love of horse riding, or maybe because of a fashion business she starts. If she really knows what it feels like to be passionate about something, does it really matter if it didn’t come because of travel?

My travels are an example for her regardless.

She doesn’t have to accompany me on trips or even understand my love of travel, but what I hope she at least sees is a mom who is in love with life. A mom who has abundant curiosity and follows it. A mom who wants to question and be questioned while interacting with foreign cultures. A mom who takes risks, who throws herself into the unknown, and who trusts that everything on the road will work out to be one grand adventure no matter what.

Travel does not have to be somewhere far away or exotic.

I tend to think that travel doesn’t ‘count’ unless it’s a 38-hour plane ride away or in a place where I don’t speak a word of the language. I had to realize that while my daughter would probably not get excited about a girl trip to Rio, she could enjoy a weekend together at a spa in a cute little mountain town nearby (with good shopping). For her, being away from home was travel. In the end, we were spending time together in a new place, so that had to be considered a win-win.

She helps me to clarify exactly what I love about travel.

“You’re going to Kenya? Why the heck would you want to go there?”, “Why do you want to go hiking? Don’t you see enough trees from our back yard?” This type of constant questioning forces me to share exactly what it is about the adventure that excites me, what I hope to do, see, and learn there.

One of the biggest lessons I’ve learned through parenting is to embrace and celebrate each child’s individuality. I’m not here to make a little mini-me. As long as my travels inspire her in some way (even if it’s not to actually travel), and she fosters passion within her towards something that makes her glad to be alive, I’ve learned to be good with the fact that she couldn’t care less about travel. More like this: We're a family that hosts travelers from all over the world. Here's how many bad experiences we've had.

I remember back in 2011 when my friend Chris and I were on the bus from Luang Prabang back to Vang Vieng in Laos. We had left Vang Vieng earlier than we had wanted in order to stay with our friends; now that everyone was going their separate ways, we could go back and party some more.

WE COULD GO BACK AND PARTY SOME MORE.

And we giggled like maniacs the entire six-hour ride back. We would look at each other and just start cracking up. My god, we even wore our VANG VIENG – IN THE TUBING shirts for the bus ride. Knowing that the party of all parties lay ahead of us.

Chris and Kate in Vang Vieng, because THIS PICTURE NEVER FAILS TO MAKE ME LAUGH. Oh, Chris…if you only knew that was car paint and it wouldn’t come off for days…

Times change. Vang Vieng is no longer the bacchanal that it once was, and my personal tastes in travel have changed as well.

But there are still destinations that make me giggle.

Vang Vieng made me giggle at 26. Prague made me giggle at 20. Las Vegas made me giggle at 23. San Pedro, Guatemala, made me giggle at 30.

And Key West made me giggle at 32.

Welcome to Key West

“Everyone here looks like Guy Fieri,” I whispered to Cailin. Similar to our earlier stops in the Keys, it seemed like everyone was tanned, bleached, spiky, or all three. But one thing was for sure — people were here for a good time.

Oh yes, Key West is a party place. Mostly for people older than us — while there were a handful of visitors in their twenties and thirties, I found most visitors to be 40+ and especially 50+. And the crowd was very white.

See that waving group on the top right? That’s the demographic, right there.

So if you’re in your twenties or thirties, don’t go expecting to meet lots of people around your age. You might meet some, but I wouldn’t plan on it. You’d probably be better off going to Las Vegas or New Orleans for a younger party crowd.

Key West has historically been a very LGBT-friendly destination, but I was surprised at a few things. First of all, while there were plenty of gay travelers and gay couples visiting, I didn’t see a single sign of affection or PDA between a same-sex couple. I also didn’t see a single gay bar or group of gay travelers, which seemed unusual.

Secondly, there were T-shirts for sale everywhere that read “I’M NOT GAY BUT $20 IS $20.” Kind of like the “UP THE BUM NO BABYS” shirts of Kuta, Bali. (There were also a lot of Trump-friendly shirts — “SPEAK ENGLISH OR GET OUT OF MY COUNTRY,” etc.) It surprised me that vaguely homophobic apparel would be so widespread in a prominent LGBT travel destination.

Now — take this all with a grain of salt. I’m a straight cis woman; I’ve never experienced the difficulties LGBT travelers face and I’d never claim to speak for the LGBT community. And perhaps I was obtuse and walked by a ton of gay bars without noticing.

But I will say this: don’t expect Key West to be like Fire Island or Provincetown or San Francisco, where tons of gay couples walk around arm-in-arm and nobody bats an eye. It may be different at different times of year. But if you’re gay and planning a trip, Florida Keys Tourism has an LGBT travel resource site here.

The Beauty of Key West

Key West is such a beautiful city and the buildings blend together beautifully. One of my favorite things to do was just walk around the town and check out the homes.

Here are some of my favorite shots:

Are you in love with Key West already or what?

Yes, there are some taller buildings, but they tend to be outside the town center. That’s why you’re best off staying in a small guesthouse in one of these traditional buildings.

Sunsets Are Life

Every night, the waterfront and area around Mallory Square come to life just before sunset. They call it the Sunset Celebration — the streets are live with performers and food and booze vendors as everyone gathers to watch the sun go down.

Cailin and I see bright green slushies from a wagon parked by the water. “What is that?”

“It’s The Green Thing!” the bartender announces with pride. “I invented it twenty years ago! Here, I’ll pour you a sample.” He pours us an extremely generous serving into a spare glass.

We sip the sample, our lips turning green. It’s fabulously strong, tasting of rum and limes. We order two.

“Can I try?” asks a forty-something man behind us.

“Um. Okay,” I say, handing him my glass and internally screaming, Why are you giving some stranger your drink, McCulley? You should have ovaried up and told him no!

(“Why did you give it to him?” Cailin asks as soon as we’re away from him. “I DON’T KNOW!” I exclaim. “It was a sample! What’s the etiquette for samples?!”)

Green drinks in hand, we make our way down to the greatest show of all — THE CAT MAN.

Imagine a French dude with long white hair performing “magic tricks” with a collection of cats and then lifting their tails and screaming into their butts. That’s the Cat Man, and his Key West show is famous! Whatever you do, make your way over to see the Cat Man’s show.

(No pictures because he doesn’t permit them — but you can check out his website here.)

Key West Sightseeing

Key West has plenty of places to explore if you’re into sightseeing. We didn’t go on a major tourism binge, but we did check out a few of the biggest sites.

First of all, Ernest Hemingway lived in Key West and you can visit his home. The Sun Also Rises has been my favorite book since I was 17, so visiting his home was a must for me.

You can see his typewriter. And a portrait of him painted, in Cailin’s words, “when he was young and hot.”

Most famous, however, are the Hemingway cats. The cats are descendants of Snow White, a white kitten given to Hemingway by a ship’s captain. The cats are polydactyl, or six-toed, a trait that has lasted down many generations.

Crazy cat lady Cailin made a new friend.

Across from the Hemingway House is the Key West Lighthouse. It’s 88 steps to the top…

…and you get a great view across the island.

Just down the street from the lighthouse is the Southernmost Point. It’s the furthest south point in the continental United States — only 90 miles from Cuba.

It’s fun to stand further south than everyone else there and know that you personally are the southernmost human in the continental US!

Foodie Fun — And Key Lime Pie

Key West is a casual place, and most of the dining options here are open, welcoming, and unpretentious.

Tons of my friends and readers told me we had to go to Blue Heaven — and wow. I fell in love with it the moment we walked in.

Ramshackle tables were set up outside. Two guys were playing guitars on stage and making jokes throughout.

All the seats were taken, so we headed to the bar for a drink.

And the bar was hopping, even as early as noon. (This was a pattern I noticed throughout the Keys — you can always find somewhere to drink.) Also, how great is that HELLO sticker in the background?

Key lime pie was had, of course. This wasn’t one of my favorites, though — the meringue seemed lazy to me. Too overly done. It’s supposed to be messier than that.

If you’re looking for something more upscale, head to Mangoes for dinner.

And they had one of my favorite cocktails: the watermelon margarita.

(Fun fact: Cailin is always getting me to say “watermelon margarita” out loud because it’s one of the few phrases I always say in a Boston accent. She then asks me what I put my clothes in and I say “drawer” without pronouncing the last two letters and she finds it hilarious.)

Other standouts: crab cakes made with macadamia nuts; a conch sampler featuring ceviche, chowder, and fritters; and a Caribbean-style steak frites with yucca fries.

Mangoes has both a traditional key lime pie and unorthodox key lime pie on the menu, so we went for the offbeat choice: made with mascarpone and a ginger-graham cracker crust. After trying several varieties of key lime pie all over the Keys, this was a nice detour.

The gingery crust was fabulous, though I do prefer the tart traditional filling.

And if you want even more famous key lime pie, head to Kermit’s. I found their pie filling to be a bit too on the mousse-y side, rather than gelled, but I really loved their frozen key lime pie on a stick, dipped in chocolate!

Boston Reunion on a Sunset Cruise

Sunset cruises are one of the most popular activities in Key West. For our second night, Cailin and I decided to join a schooner cruise with America 2.0.

“Everyone here is already loaded,” I whispered as we boarded the boat. It was true — we were the only ones under 40 and while we were sober, about 90% of our fellow passengers had clearly already been drinking.

We set off into the late afternoon sunshine, welcomed by our smiling crew. Oh, and they filled our glasses at the earliest moment possible and kept us topped up. For me and Cailin, it was rosé all day.

At this point, I should mention that a large percentage of passengers were decked out in Red Sox and Patriots gear, toasting to Tom Brady and the Super Bowl win the week before.

Yes. We had found the Massholes.

“I’m warning you,” I told Cailin. “Between the open bar and the Massholes, I’m going be speaking in the thickest Boston accent ever in about an hour.”

And once they found out I was from their home state, too, we became the best of friends.

“TO TOM BRADY!” we cheered, toasting each other. “GREATEST OF ALL TIME!”

To be honest, Boston’s crazy sports culture is a major reason why I left the city in the first place. I got tired of sports dominating every conversation and not being able to talk to a guy in a bar, ever.

That said, now that I no longer live in Massachusetts, I love running into that culture on the road. Go figure.

Also, the Massholes told me that Gronk (the Patriots’ Rob Gronkowski) was in Key West at the moment. I had to text my dad: “GRONK IS IN KEY WEST. THIS IS NOT A DRILL!!”

So yes. We drank a lot of wine. We gazed at another beautiful sunset. We got back on shore far more inebriated than when we got on board. Our new best friends took us to an Irish pub (because Boston). And before you know it, guess who jumped on stage for a Guinness-chugging contest?

I came in last place. Cailin did much better than me.

That is probably all that should be said about that evening (except later we got hot dogs and in my addled state I was wise enough not to eat the bun, which I’m pretty sure didn’t even matter if I was chugging bloody Guinness earlier that evening).

So. If you’re looking for a party, Key West is definitely the place. I’m really glad we got to have a party night there!

Where We Stayed — Not Your Average Hotel

First things first: accommodation in Key West is surprisingly expensive. Prices often exceed what you would pay in New York for a similar property. And because it’s a small island, there’s a limited amount of inventory (though we did meet some people camping on Stock Island, the next island over).

Even so, you want to be in the center of town in Key West. The town is such a beautiful place and it’s so nice to be able to walk home instead of tracking down one of the pink taxis that dot the town (there’s no Uber or Lyft).

There is, however, a much more economical option that doesn’t sacrifice on style or amenities: the Not Your Average Hotel. Cailin and I were comped two nights here but even if we weren’t, this would be one of the best priced options in town.

Many of the private rooms are set up dorm-style, with up to three sets of bunk beds and an ensuite bathroom. The rooms are customized and beds can be converted into kings if you’d like. The rooms are relatively simple, but the bunk beds do come with their own cubbies and reading lights, like nicer hostels, as well as lockers.

On the grounds, there are three swimming pools and two jacuzzis. We found the crowd to be a bit younger than most Key West visitors, which was nice. Starbucks coffee is available 24/7 and they have a pretty decent continental breakfast, as well as happy hour specials from the bar.

Best of all, it’s in a central location, a short walk from Duval Street, the waterfront, and most area attractions. And there is a wonderful juice bar next door called Date and Thyme (I love that name!). They make a lovely beet juice if you’re like me and like to pretend you’re drinking blood.

The Not Your Average Hotel was great and I would absolutely stay there again. See Essential Info for pricing information.

The Takeaway

Would I go back to Key West? HELL YES I WOULD! Just tell me when! I can be at Newark Airport in 30 minutes and they fly direct on United!

Seriously, I would go back to Key West for an escape from the cold northeastern winter. I would love to bring a group of girlfriends, especially for something like a bachelorette party. Cailin and I talked about having another blogger girls’ getaway here, like we did in Mallorca in 2015. And I would love to return for Fantasy Fest, Key West’s racy Halloween celebration.

I would probably not come back to Key West during one of my sober months.

Because when I think of Key West now, I invariably start to giggle. I know how fun this place can be.

Essential Info: As much as I loved Key West, I found activities and especially accommodation to be very expensive. For that reason, you might want Key West to be a brief component of a longer trip, though I do wish we had stayed for three nights.

Rooms at the Not Your Average Hotel start at $152 for two, $161 for three, $170 for four, $186 for five, and $196 for six in low season. Those rates are generally about 50% more in high season.

For more Key West hotels, check out rates here.

Our sunset cruise was with America 2.0 and costs $85. The sailing lasts two hours, offers a variety of passed apps, and is open bar with beer and wine available. The staff keep your glasses filled!

Admission to the Ernest Hemingway House is $14 and includes an optional 30-minute tour. Please be respectful of the cats and don’t antagonize them. Admission to the Key West Lighthouse, along with its museum, is $10.

Street parking in Key West is common and you can park in the same spot for up to three days for free. We took this option. There are also parking garages. Neither Uber nor Lyft is available; grab one of the pink taxis instead. Better yet, stay in a central location so you don’t need to get a ride.

Don’t visit Key West without travel insurance. If you get sick or injured while in Key West, which can happen even if you’re careful, travel insurance will protect you and your finances. I use and recommend World Nomads.

Many thanks to Florida Keys Tourism for supporting this part of our trip. We received a press pass and received two nights’ comped accommodation at Not Your Average Hotel, a comped meal at Mangoes, a comped America 2.0 booze cruise, and free admission to the Hemingway House and the Lighthouse. Everything else was at our own expense. All opinions, as always, are my own.

Have you been to Key West? Is it your kind of destination? Share away!

A Canadian filmmaker is giving away the $250,000 dream life she created in Laos as part of an international ‘pay-it-forward’ competition.

Award-winning director Isabel Dréan is handing over a thriving bookshop/café with a fair-trade gallery, a motorcycle, $10,000 USD, foreign investor resident status, and more.

Laos give-away

“Rather than selling the business the traditional way, I wanted to show gratitude and pay-it-forward to change someone’s life,” said Ms Dréan.

“I landed in the world heritage town of Luang Prabang as a tourist planning to stay for two days and ended up staying for 10 years. It was a life-changing decision but it’s time for a new chapter, so why not give this chance to someone else.”

As part of the global competition — “The Ultimate Dream Life Abroad” — entrants will be asked to write a 200-word answer to the question: “Why me?” or if they prefer, upgrade to a 2-min video-pitch for an additional fee. Ms. Dréan wants people to tell her why they’re the ‘one’.

“It’s like playing matchmaker for an old friend,” the filmmaker said. “I’m looking to find someone who will keep the magic alive.”

“It’s not about experience but really about who they are, what’s their story, their passion, their dream.”

The competition kicked off on March 23rd and will run over the next three months with three rounds. Competition closes on June 6th, 2017.

Three finalists (one from each round) will be chosen and flown to Luang Prabang, Laos, all-expenses-paid, to meet with Ms Dréan and her family and prepare their final plea.

“There will be fun challenges they will need to complete in front of a panel of guests judges to see how well they can adjust to the culture and surprises, which you need when you run a business in a foreign country,” she said.

“One lucky winner will then take over the two businesses and their life will change forever.”

Ms Dréan started with no money or no entrepreneurial experience and wants to give someone else the same chance she had.

“I’ve always done things differently in my life and as crazy as it sounds, this idea resonated with me,” she said.

“I know it might sound too good to be true but I’m really doing this. This is the perfect ending to my story in Laos and the beginning of someone else’s.”

Hopeful applicants can enter on the competition website “Ultimate Dream LifeAbroad”.

You might assume that traveling to Asia during our summer months would be a perfect option for a beach holiday, but that actually not the case. June is rainy season in Asia. The website Price of Travel put together this informative list breaking down the best places to visit in Asia during the summer months. The top 11 destinations are pretty amazing. Check it out, and start rethinking that next trip.

Editor’s note: These spots are all taken directly from travelstoke®, a new app from Matador that connects you with fellow travelers and locals, and helps you build trip itineraries with spots that integrate seamlessly into Google Maps and Uber. Download the app to add any of the spots below directly to your future trips.

1. Bali, Indonesia

 Thomas BeachPecatu, IndonesiaUluwatu is home to loads of beautiful beaches. Thomas beach is a little quieter than most. You have to take the thigh burning stairs in order to get there, but it’s definitely worth the trek. One night a week they throw an epic beach party with live music. And you can also stay at the guesthouse overlooking the beach, if you’re ok with a shitty room. In my opinion, the broken sink and lack of pillows and blankets was worth the epic view. #beach

  • June avg high: 85F/29C
  • June avg low: 77F/25C
  • June avg precip: 2.8″/7.0cm
  • June is actually one of the cooler and dryer months here. One downside is that June is also one of the busier months of the year in Bali, as it’s a very popular destination for Australians on a winter break. Still, the nicer weather is worth it, and it’s still pretty easy to avoid the crowds in Bali if you avoid the Kuta/Legian/Seminyak beach area in general.

    2. Tokyo, Japan

     Shinjuku Gyoen National GardenShinjuku-ku, JapanIf you’ve ever thought of going to Japan, experience the ultimate in Japanese culture. Sakura season was an acci-coincidence for my first trip to Japan. And the people and country leftnits mark in such a beautiful way. #japan #tokyo #sakura #cherryblossom

    Don’t think, just travel!!

  • June avg high: 77F/25C
  • June avg low: 66F/19C
  • June avg precip: 6.5″/16.3cm
  • July and August are very hot and steamy in Tokyo, but June is still rather pleasant so it’s an ideal time to visit not only Tokyo but Japan in general. You’ll notice that on Price of Travel’s Global Backpacker Index, Tokyo ranks near Rome and Vienna, and is much cheaper than London or Amsterdam.

    3. Seoul, South Korea

     Bukchon Hanok VillageSeoul, South KoreaBukchon Hanok Village is one of the few areas in Seoul that transports visitors back in time to see what the city must have looked like during the Joseon Dynasty. This hilly district that flanks Changdeokgung Palace is made up of traditional Korean homes called “hanoks” that are now used as a mixture of residences, local businesses and cultura learning centers. I stopped to pick up a map by the small tourism office about a block from exit 2 from Anguk Station. It plots some scenic walks and the best spots to snap pictures of the ancient village with stretches of modern metropolis looming in the background.

    #history #architecture #views #walks

  • June avg high: 80F/27C
  • June avg low: 64F/18C
  • June avg precip: 5.2″/13.0cm
  • Since Seoul is even farther north than Tokyo, its winters are pretty brutal and even the springs and autumns can be a bit chilly. May, June, September, and October are by far the best months to visit Korea.

    4. Luang Prabang, Laos

     Royal PalaceLuang Prabang, Laos#history #travel #traveling #travelphotography

  • June avg high: 91F/33C
  • June avg low: 76F/24C
  • June avg precip: 7.0″/17.5cm
  • While the eastern parts of southeast Asia can get very rainy in June, Laos and most of Thailand is still reasonably dry. Actually, it’s more that the rainstorms are very quick and are usually over in less than 30 minutes, and they can actually provide some welcome temporary relief from the heat in the process.

    5. Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

     Perdana Botanical GardensKuala Lumpur, MalaysiaPetrona Towers, impressive skyscraper.

  • June avg high: 91F/33C
  • June avg low: 75F/24C
  • June avg precip: 4.9″/12.3cm
  • Kuala Lumpur and nearby Singapore are not far from the equator and thus hot every day of the year. Still, June through August is the driest period of the year, so it’s also a bit less humid and more pleasant in general.

    6. Singapore

     EsplanadeSingapore, SingaporeA great place to chill and enjoy the laser show of Marina Bay Sand in the evening.

  • June avg high: 88F/31C
  • June avg low: 78F/26C
  • June avg precip: 6.8″/17.0cm
  • Singapore is small enough to see in 3 days or so, and that’s good because hotels and alcohol are quite expensive, but it all feels worthwhile. June is one of the better months to visit because it rains less than the rest of the year. If you are coming all this way it’s probably wise to also visit Malaysia on the same trip, since they are separated by only a bridge.

    7. Colombo, Sri Lanka

     Seema MalakaColombo, Sri Lanka

  • June avg high: 87F/31C
  • June avg low: 78F/26C
  • June avg precip: 7.3″/18.3cm
  • Unlike most of India to its north, the rains in Sri Lanka usually end in early June, so this begins one of the better times of year to visit. The beach towns along the southern coast are worth a look, but the national parks and nature sights of the interior hills are even better for a first visit.

    8. Bangkok, Thailand

     Bang Khu Wiang Floating MarketBangkok, Thailand#newexperience #greatfood

  • June avg high: 92F/33C
  • June avg low: 78F/26C
  • June avg precip: 5.9″/14.8cm
  • It’s definitely very hot in June in Bangkok, but it’s actually nicer than it is in the hotter months of April and May, so this is still a good time to visit. Interestingly, it’s the quick rainstorms that happen a few afternoons each week that bring temperatures here down and into a more pleasant range. You’ll notice the skies getting gray in plenty of time to seek shelter, so avoiding them is surprisingly easy.

    9. Chiang Mai, Thailand

     ศูนย์การค้าเทศบาลตำบลหางดง Hangdong MarketTambon Hang Dong, ThailandWhile most tourists flock to the big markets in Chiang Mai city, locals go to the small markets that are basically in every neighborhood in Thailand. In our area in Hang Dong we have at least 5! This covered market is near the police station and close to Baan Tawai, and the stalls sell local veg and spices, as well as excellent nam prik. #cheap-eats

  • June avg high: 90F/32C
  • June avg low: 75F/24C
  • June avg precip: 5.2″/13.0cm
  • You will get more June rainstorms on Thailand’s islands and beach towns of the south, so June is a good month to head north to its second city of Chiang Mai. It’s almost as hot as Bangkok during the summer, but it doesn’t rain much and most hotels here have swimming pools.

    10. Beijing, China

     Great WallBeijing, ChinaIt’s a drive to Jinshanling but well worth the experience of solitude with the remarkable 2,300 year old wall.

  • June avg high: 86F/30C
  • June avg low: 66F/19C
  • June avg precip: 3.0″/7.5cm
  • The air quality in June in Beijing can be quite bad, so you really don’t want to linger here more than a few days to see the highlights.

    11. Shanghai, China

     West LakeHangzhou Shi, ChinaHangzhou is my favorite places, amazing landscape and so peacefull. Typical ancient China garden. When you do your trip in early morning, you feel step into the past. Amazing experience. #gallery #free #history #statue

  • June avg high: 82F/28C
  • June avg low: 69F/21C
  • June avg precip: 6.7″/16.8cm
  • Even though June is quite warm, at least the June air quality is much better than in Beijing. This is a far more modern city with striking architecture and an extremely impressive infrastructure.

    Laos is the most bombed country in the world per capita. From 1964 to 1973, the U.S. dropped more than two million tons of ordnance on Laos during 580,000 bombing missions — equal to a planeload of bombs every 8 minutes, 24-hours a day, for 9 years.

    These bombs were meant to disrupt the Ho Chi Minh Trail, a network of jungle and mountain paths that served as a logistical supply route for the North Vietnamese Army during the Vietnam War.

    Up to a third of the bombs dropped did not explode, leaving Laos contaminated with vast quantities of unexploded ordnance (UXO). Over 20,000 people have been killed or injured by UXO in Laos since the end of the war.

    In September 2016, Rohan and I attempted to retrace the trail in Laos on bicycle.

    I’m incredibly grateful for the Gladstone Memorial Trust for supporting this adventure. This photo journal is my way of saying thank you.

    We assembled our bikes at Dong Hoi train station. We possessed the mechanical know-how of a potato, and our comprehensive pre-trip preparation involved downloading Bike Doctor from the App Store.

    In the following weeks, this would become a common scene: us making marvellous fools of ourselves, being assisted by curious and helpful locals, many of whom possess an encyclopaedic knowledge of all things bicycle-related.

    The road from Laos climbed relentlessly to the Mu Gia pass. This border crossing was the main point of entry into the Ho Chi Minh trail; by 1966, 75% of all trucks crossed ‘The Door of Death.’ Because so much traffic passed through this jagged limestone valley, it became one of the most bombed places on earth — an American pilot called it “the most godforsaken place in the world.”

    It is obvious in hindsight, but that first day, 11 hours on the saddle, was a hint that this tour wasn’t going to be as easy as a ride down King’s Parade toward the Mill Lane lecture rooms.

    For various practical reasons, principally that water and soil combine to make mud, the timetable of the Vietnam War was dictated by the wet and dry seasons of the Indochinese region. So debilitating are the rains that the Americans launched Operation Popeye, a cloud-seeding weather modification programme designed to extend the monsoon season. Battle doctrines were drawn to accommodate mother nature.

    So naturally, Ro and I found it wise to attempt the HCM trail during the rainy season.

    One of the hardest parts of the tour was coming to terms with the constant dispiriting discovery that there was always more water. The thing about hilly conditions is that you never see what’s to come. Every time we hauled ourselves up the crest of a hill, we found out that there was a flooded valley beyond.

    As much as Ro and I wanted to lie down and die, we were dumbly captivated and inspired by how the North Vietnamese Army maintained the trail system for nine years, during the monsoon season, while being relentlessly bombed.

    There is awfully little information about the trail available online, and we did most of our route-planning with satellite imagery. Unfortunately, the trail, by definition and design, was engineered to be invisible to prying eyes from the sky.

    Stand in the mountains and you know that you are in a big space. Stand in a tropical rainforest and the trees surround you, hunker over you, crowd in from all sides. You sense but not see the vastness around you, like a small child lost in a sea of hairy legs.

    The same rainforest that sheltered the Viet Cong now harbours the enterprise of many an extractive operation. Illegal logging runs rampant in Laos, fuelled by Chinese demand and allowed by cavalier governance. In 2013, Laos exported 1.4 million cubic meters of timber, more than 10x the official timber harvest.

    One time we ran into a convoy of armed men. We asked no questions and tried our best to appear intensely harmless, peddling away as rapidly as our pale thighs would allow.

    It is easy to think of war as a bookmark in history, a one-hour episode with sub-par acting on the History Channel. It was sobering to see how the conflict continues to be a part of everyday life in rural Laos. It’s common for homes to have a satellite dish and bomb crater out front.

    Even so, life in rural Laos goes on. I struggled to take photos and write words that are sympathetic toward the liminal moments that make up life in parts of Laos, that reveal a legacy of conflict that is at once casual and jarring, an indifferent “oh” and a disturbed “oh shit”.

    We made it as far as Xépôn before riding east back toward Hue, most well-known its role in the the Tet Offensive. Our butts were incredibly sore. I took some other photos of the beach, the market, our thighs, people eating.

    We managed to raise some money for the Mines Advisory Group along the way. I don’t yet comprehend the entire significance of this trip, but I know that we got a great deal out of the experience; learnt a lot about ourselves, about what adventure means to us, about parts of history that others would rather us forget.

    If you’re keen to do the Ho Chi Minh trail or go cycling in Vietnam and need some information, give me a holler.

    We’d recommend that everyone try cycle touring sometime. You don’t have to swim with your bike or slip spluttering through mud.

    To put things into perspective, Ro didn’t really learn to cycle until late last year, and we’d never been bike touring before. We’re still majestically incompetent on two wheels. Riding down King’s Parade toward the Mill Lane lecture rooms is still a chore.

    This article originally appeared on Medium and is republished here with permission.

    Lonely Planet Laos (Travel Guide)

    Lonely Planet

    Lonely Planet: The world's leading travel guide publisher

    Lonely Planet Laos is your passport to all the most relevant and up-to-date advice on what to see, what to skip, and what hidden discoveries await you. Get around via riverboat, meet the Akha Nuqui people while trekking around Phongsali, or satisfy your sweet tooth at a bakery in Vientiane; all with your trusted travel companion. Get to the heart of Laos and begin your journey now!

    Inside Lonely Planet's Laos Travel Guide:

    Colour maps and images throughout Highlights and itineraries show you the simplest way to tailor your trip to your own personal needs and interests Insider tips save you time and money, and help you get around like a local, avoiding crowds and trouble spots Essential info at your fingertips - including hours of operation, phone numbers, websites, transit tips, and prices Honest reviews for all budgets - including eating, sleeping, sight-seeing, going out, shopping, and hidden gems that most guidebooks miss Cultural insights give you a richer and more rewarding travel experience - including culture, history, religion, art, literature, film, music, dance, architecture, politics, flora, wildlife, cuisine, and wine Over 50 colour maps Useful features - including walking tours, Outdoor Adventures, Month by Month (annual festival calendar) and more Coverage of VientianePhonsavanLuang Prabang, Vieng Xai, Vang Vieng, Xieng Khuang, the Hua Phan provinces, the Muang Ngoi district, Phongsali, Bolikhamsai, ChampasakSekong, Attapeu, Salavan, and more

    The Perfect Choice: Lonely Planet Laos, our most comprehensive guide to Laos, is perfect for those planning to both explore the top sights and take the road less travelled.

    Looking for more extensive coverage? Check out Lonely Planet's Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos & Northern Thailand guide for a comprehensive look at all the region has to offer.

    Authors: Written and researched by Lonely Planet, Nick Ray, Greg Bloom, and Richard Waters.

    About Lonely Planet: Started in 1973, Lonely Planet has become the world's leading travel guide publisher with guidebooks to every destination on the planet, as well as an award-winning website, a suite of mobile and digital travel products, and a dedicated traveller community. Lonely Planet's mission is to enable curious travellers to experience the world and to truly get to the heart of the places they find themselves in.

    TripAdvisor Travelers' Choice Awards 2012 and 2013 winner in Favorite Travel Guide category

    'Lonely Planet guides are, quite simply, like no other.' -The New York Times

    'Lonely Planet. It's on everyone's bookshelves; it's in every traveller's hands. It's on mobile phones. It's on the Internet. It's everywhere, and it's telling entire generations of people how to travel the world.' -Fairfax Media (Australia)

    DK Eyewitness Travel Guide: Cambodia & Laos

    DK

    DK Eyewitness Travel Guide: Cambodia and Laos is your in-depth guide to the very best of these two countries.

    Whether you want to explore the temples of Angkor Wat, take a boat trip through the famous Tham Kong Lo caves, or sunbathe on stunning white beaches in southern Cambodia, Cambodia and Laos offer exhilarating options for visitors.

    Discover DK Eyewitness Travel Guide: Cambodia and Laos

       • Detailed itineraries and "don't-miss" destination highlights at a glance.    • Illustrated cutaway 3-D drawings of important sights, including the temple complexes of Angkor and Luang Prabang.    • Guided walking tours, local drink and dining specialties to try, things to do, and places to eat, drink, and shop by area.    • Area maps marked with sights and restaurants.    • Detailed city map of Phnom Penh.    • Insights into history and culture to help you understand the stories behind the sights.    • Hotel and restaurant listings highlight DK Choice special recommendations.

    With hundreds of full-color photographs, hand-drawn illustrations, and custom maps that illuminate every page, DK Eyewitness Travel Guide: Cambodia and Laos truly shows you this region as no one else can.

    Series Overview: For more than two decades, DK Eyewitness Travel Guides have helped travelers experience the world through the history, art, architecture, and culture of their destinations. Expert travel writers and researchers provide independent editorial advice, recommendations, and reviews. With guidebooks to hundreds of places around the globe available in print and digital formats, DK Eyewitness Travel Guides show travelers how they can discover more.

    DK Eyewitness Travel Guides: the most maps, photographs, and illustrations of any guide.

    Lonely Planet Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos & Northern Thailand (Travel Guide)

    Lonely Planet

    Lonely Planet: The world's leading travel guide publisher

    Lonely Planet Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos & Northern Thailand is your passport to the most relevant, up-to-date advice on what to see and skip, and what hidden discoveries await you. Tempt your tastebuds with pho noodle soup in Vietnam, sail past the limestone peaks of Halong Bay, or experience the transcendent tranquility of temples like Angkor Wat; all with your trusted travel companion. Get to the heart of Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos & Northern Thailand and begin your journey now!

    Inside Lonely Planet's Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos & Northern Thailand Travel Guide:

    Colour maps and images throughout Highlights and itineraries help you tailor your trip to your personal needs and interests Insider tips to save time and money and get around like a local, avoiding crowds and trouble spots Essential info at your fingertips - hours of operation, phone numbers, websites, transit tips, prices Honest reviews for all budgets - eating, sleeping, sight-seeing, going out, shopping, hidden gems that most guidebooks miss Cultural insights give you a richer, more rewarding travel experience - customs, history, art, music, dance, landscapes, environment, cuisine Over 70 maps Covers Hanoi, Halong Bay, Ho Chi Minh City, Phnom Penh, Siem Reap, Sihanoukville, VientianeLuang Prabang, Bangkok, Chiang Mai, Chiang Rai, Golden Triangle and more

    The Perfect Choice: Lonely Planet Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos & Northern Thailand , our most comprehensive guide to Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos & Northern Thailand, is perfect for both exploring top sights and taking roads less travelled.

    Looking for a guide focused on the individual countries included in this destination? Check out Lonely Planet's Vietnam guide, Laos guide, Cambodia guide or Thailand guide for a comprehensive look at all these countries have to offer; or Discover Thailand, a photo-rich guide to Thailand's most popular attractions.

    Authors: Written and researched by Lonely Planet, Greg Bloom, Austin Bush, Iain Stewart and Richard Waters.

    About Lonely Planet: Since 1973, Lonely Planet has become the world's leading travel media company with guidebooks to every destination, an award-winning website, mobile and digital travel products, and a dedicated traveller community. Lonely Planet covers must-see spots but also enables curious travellers to get off beaten paths to understand more of the culture of the places in which they find themselves.

    Laos

    Reise Know-How Verlag

    Folded, indexed, road map of Laos, showing all major and many minor roads, cities and towns, at a scale of 1:600,000 (1 " to 9.5 miles). Map shows national parks, mountains, viewpoints, places of interest, rivers, beaches, temples, shrines, railways, and lakes. Legend is in German, English, French, and Spanish.

    Laos: Laos Travel Guide for Your Perfect Laos Adventure!: Written by Local Laos Travel Expert (Laos Travel Guide, Travel Guide Laos, Travel Laos)

    Project Nomad

    Are You Full of Wanderlust? Do You Want to See Somewhere Unique, Exciting, and Untouched by Tourism?Laos is a place of natural beauty with a landscape that is rugged, raw, and complex. Its green mountains, exotic forests and rolling hills will throw you straight into a painting you’ll never want to leave. With flora and fauna unique to the region hidden just inside the virgin rainforests, every tree offers up a glimpse at a new world.In the cities, you’ll discover a uniquely blended society that combines both an ancient Buddhist culture and a thriving modern culture to form a remarkable melting-pot that must be experienced first-hand. Through rich food, culture, and art, this landlocked South East Asian nation proves that it is like nowhere else in the world.But why this guide? Who am I to show you Laos?As a local Laos travel writer, it is my privilege to provide you with the very best guide possible for the very best adventure possible! By getting a guide written by a local, you are offered insights not covered in standard guidebooks. After all, you cannot ask a tourist in Italy where the best place to eat pasta is! The same is true in Laos. With my lifetime of experience and knowledge, I can take you on a stunning and unique adventure through Laos you’ll want to experience again and again. This Guide Will Include:The best places to visit (including all the major cities)Cultural tipsThe history of important cities and sitesMust-have knowledge of the countryInformation on popular festivals and events

    Laos: A Concise History, Language, Culture, Cuisine, Transport & Travel Guide (Be a Knowledgeable South East Asia Explorer) (Volume 4)

    Wily World Travelers

    Are you wanting to go to a different country but not look like a total tourist? Then this is the book for you!

    Through the pages of this book, you are going to learn:The History & Culture of LaosThe food of choice for Locals, Ex-pats and TouristsHandy phrases to make exploring Laos easierThe best places to visit from Luang Prabang to Vientiane and everywhere in betweenPlus loads more tips & tricksAvailable for PURCHASE TODAY!

    Lao Basics: An Introduction to the Lao Language (Audio CD Included) (Tuttle Basics)

    Sam Brier

    This is a concise, do–it– yourself guide to the Lao languageLao Basics teaches conversational Lao from the very beginning with an emphasis on reading and writing an is the easiest way to learn Lao. Students of Thai will find Lao quite simple, as much of these two languages are the same or very similar. These languages derive from Sanskrit and share many of the same consonants, vowels, vocabulary and grammar. Lao Basics is organized so that you first learn to read Lao, write Lao, speak Lao and comprehend the 26 consonants in their tonal classes. Once you have mastered these you will study the 28 vowels in subsets. Within each vowel grouping, you will learn vocabulary, conversational phrases, alphabetical order and sentence structure through exercises that grow more challenging as your vocabulary increases. As you progress through Lao Basics, vocabulary from previous lessons will be repeated regularly and our command of the written and spoken language will steadily improve. And you can do all this on your own. Each chapter's Lao words and exercises have been recorded on the accompanying MP3 audio–CD, and all of the exercises answers are in the back of the book. Highlights of this book are: Throughout, review exercises with answer keys help you polish your skills. The vocabulary and phrases are written in Lao script, and are accompanied by pronunciations that help English speakers to say them accurately. The MP3 audio CD includes every vocabulary item, sample phrases, and exercises, so that you can learn from native voices.

    The Rough Guide to Laos

    Steve Vickers

    The Rough Guide to Laos is the ultimate travel guide to this enchanting and unspoiled corner of Southeast Asia.

    Discover Laos's highlights. The Rough Guide to Laos features stunning full-color photography, clear maps and detailed coverage of all attractions and activities, from the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Luang Prabang to the spectacular waterfalls of the high Bolaven Plateau to the gorgeous Four Thousand Islands (Si Phan Don), and more. The Rough Guide to Laos also includes detailed background on Laos's ethnic hill tribes and advice on where to trek and which guides are most reliable.

    Inside this guidebook you'll find detailed practical advice on what to see and do and can rely on up-to-date descriptions of the best hotels and guesthouses, restaurants, bars, shops and tour operators for all budgets.

    Make the Most of Your Time on Earth with The Rough Guide to Laos.

    About Rough Guides: For thirty years, adventurous travelers have turned to Rough Guides for up-to-date and intuitive information from expert authors. With opinionated and lively writing, honest reviews, and a strong cultural background, Rough Guides travel books bring more than two hundred destinations to life.

    Exercise a high degree of caution

    The decision to travel is your responsibility. You are also responsible for your personal safety abroad. The purpose of this Travel Advice is to provide up-to-date information to enable you to make well-informed decisions.

    Civil unrest

    Tensions between Laotian government forces and unidentified groups could lead to violence in the northern region of Laos, particularly in the area of Vang Vieng. While there have been no restrictions placed on ground transportation, there is an increased military presence in the area. Proceed with caution when travelling north from Vang Vieng to Luang Prabang.

    Crime

    Street crime is prevalent in cities and towns, including Vientiane and Luang Prabang, and has been occurring even during daylight hours. Bag theft has increased markedly. Thieves on motorcycles grab bags and other valuables from pedestrians, other motorcycle drivers and their passengers. These thefts occasionally involve violence. Ensure that your personal belongings, passports and other travel documents are secure at all times. Do not show signs of affluence and avoid travelling late at night. Break-ins at hotels and guesthouses occur. Armed robberies occur in Phou Khao Khouay National Park.

    Fatalities have occurred as a result of attacks on vehicles travelling on Route 13 (Vang Vieng to Luang Prabang), Route 7 (Phou Khoun to Phonsavanh) and Route 6 (near the town of Sam Neua, Huaphan Province). Be extremely vigilant when travelling on these routes.

    Women’s safety

    Sexual assaults occur, particularly in VientianeVang Vieng and Luang Prabang. Be vigilant along hiking trails. Consult our publication entitled Her Own Way: A Woman’s Safe-Travel Guide for travel safety information specifically aimed at Canadian women.

    Demonstrations

    Avoid large gatherings and demonstrations, and follow the advice of local authorities.

    Spiked food and drinks

    Never leave food or drinks unattended or in the care of strangers. Be wary of accepting snacks, beverages, gum, or cigarettes from new acquaintances, as they may contain drugs that could put you at risk of sexual assault and robbery.

    Some food and drinks, such as “happy pizzas” and “special shakes,” may contain unspecified amounts of opium and other unknown substances. These items are sold in areas frequented by tourists, particularly Vang Vieng. While these items may be easily accessible, taking any amount of opiates can be dangerous. Foreigners, including Canadians, have died as a result of drug overdoses. Travellers have been assaulted after ingesting spiked food or drinks.

    Landmines

    Landmines and unexploded munitions constitute a risk, particularly in Xieng Khouang Province (Plain of Jars) and at the Laotian-Vietnamese border areas that were formerly traversed by the Ho Chi Minh Trail. Avoid these areas and only travel on well-used roads.

    Transportation

    Road travel in Laos can be hazardous as vehicles are often poorly maintained and road conditions are poor, especially during the rainy season. Drivers have little regard for traffic regulations and do not follow safe driving practices. Livestock often stray onto the roads, causing accidents. Travel should be undertaken only during daylight hours. Travellers involved in traffic accidents have been required to pay compensation for property damage or injuries, regardless of who the police judged to be at fault. Laotian insurers will generally only meet a small proportion of the costs of an accident and refuse to cover compensation, which can be the largest expense.

    Do not leave your passport as collateral when renting vehicles, including motorcycles. Read rental contracts thoroughly to ensure that the vehicle is correctly insured to cover damages and theft. Only rent from reputable companies, as some companies have been known to "steal" the vehicle, particularly motorcycles, and claim for loss. If your passport is inaccessible or stolen as a result of misuse, you may be subject to investigation by Passport Canada and may receive limited passport services.

    Public transportation is unreliable and limited after dark. River travel is common in Laos, however, travel by boat on the Mekong River from Vientiane to Luang Prabang is unreliable. Safety standards are minimal. Speedboat travel is especially dangerous during the dry season (November to May). Lifejackets and helmets should be provided and worn by passengers. Do not travel on or across the Mekong River after dark. In some areas, the Laotian military has been known to shoot at boats after dark.

    There have been fatal crashes involving Yuen-7 and Yuen-12 aircraft on domestic routes. Consult our Transportation Safety page in order to verify if national airlines meet safety standards.

    River-based sporting activities

    Exercise extreme caution and carefully consider your safety if engaging in river-based sporting activities, including in Vang Vieng. Travellers have died or been seriously injured while taking part in river-based activities such as tubing or jumping/diving into the river. River levels can fluctuate considerably and debris can make river-based activities dangerous.

    General safety information

    You are encouraged to register with the Embassy of Australia in Vientiane in order to receive the latest information on situations and events that could affect your safety.

    Tourist facilities outside Vientiane and Luang Prabang are limited. International telephone and email facilities are available in Vientiane but are extremely limited elsewhere. Even where available, these services are often unreliable and expensive.

    Comply with requests to stop at checkpoints and roadblocks. Travellers are subject to search, detention and the possibility of fines by authorities if suitable identification is not presented. Security authorities may place foreigners under surveillance. Hotel rooms, telephones, fax machines and email messages may be monitored. Personal possessions in hotel rooms may be searched.

    Emergency services

    Dial 191 to reach police, 195 for ambulance or 190 for fire fighters.

    Health

    Related Travel Health Notices
    Consult a health care provider or visit a travel health clinic preferably six weeks before you travel.
    Vaccines

    Routine Vaccines

    Be sure that your routine vaccines are up-to-date regardless of your travel destination.

    Vaccines to Consider

    You may be at risk for these vaccine-preventable diseases while travelling in this country. Talk to your travel health provider about which ones are right for you.

    Hepatitis A

    Hepatitis A is a disease of the liver spread by contaminated food or water. All those travelling to regions with a risk of hepatitis A infection should get vaccinated.

    Hepatitis B

    Hepatitis B is a disease of the liver spread through blood or other bodily fluids. Travellers who may be exposed (e.g., through sexual contact, medical treatment or occupational exposure) should get vaccinated.

    Influenza

    Seasonal influenza occurs worldwide. The flu season usually runs from November to April in the northern hemisphere, between April and October in the southern hemisphere and year round in the tropics. Influenza (flu) is caused by a virus spread from person to person when they cough or sneeze or through personal contact with unwashed hands. Get the flu shot.

    Japanese encephalitis

    Japanese encephalitis is a viral infection that can cause swelling of the brain. It is spread by the bite of an infected mosquito. Risk is low for most travellers. Vaccination should be considered for those who may be exposed to mosquito bites (e.g., spending time outdoors in rural areas) while travelling in regions with risk of Japanese encephalitis.

    Measles

    Measles occurs worldwide but is a common disease in developing countries, particularly in parts of Africa and Asia. Measles is a highly contagious disease. Be sure your vaccination against measles is up-to-date regardless of the travel destination.
     

    Rabies

    Rabies is a disease that attacks the central nervous system spread to humans through a bite, scratch or lick from a rabid animal. Vaccination should be considered for travellers going to areas where rabies exists and who have a high risk of exposure (i.e., close contact with animals, occupational risk, and children).

    Typhoid

    Typhoid is a bacterial infection spread by contaminated food or water. Risk is higher among travellers going to rural areas, visiting friends and relatives, or with weakened immune systems. Travellers visiting regions with typhoid risk, especially those exposed to places with poor sanitation should consider getting vaccinated.

    Yellow Fever Vaccination

    Yellow fever is a disease caused by the bite of an infected mosquito.

    Travellers get vaccinated either because it is required to enter a country or because it is recommended for their protection.

    * It is important to note that country entry requirements may not reflect your risk of yellow fever at your destination. It is recommended that you contact the nearest diplomatic or consular office of the destination(s) you will be visiting to verify any additional entry requirements.
    Risk
    • There is no risk of yellow fever in this country.
    Country Entry Requirement*
    • Proof of yellow fever vaccination is required if you are coming from a country where yellow fever occurs.
    Recommendation
    • Vaccination is not recommended.
    • Discuss travel plans, activities, and destinations with a health care provider.
    Food/Water

    Food and Water-borne Diseases

    Travellers to any destination in the world can develop travellers' diarrhea from consuming contaminated water or food.

    In some areas in Southeast Asia, food and water can also carry diseases like cholera, hepatitis A, leptospirosis, schistosomiasis and typhoid. Practise safe food and water precautions while travelling in Southeast Asia. Remember: Boil it, cook it, peel it, or leave it!

    Cholera

    There have been cases of cholera reported in this country in the last year. Cholera is a bacterial disease that typically causes diarrhea. In severe cases it can lead to dehydration and even death.

    Most travellers are generally at low risk. Humanitarian workers and those visiting areas with limited access to safe food and water are at higher risk. Practise safe food and water precautions. Travellers at high risk should get vaccinated.

    Schistosomiasis

    Schistosomiasis is caused by blood flukes (tiny worms) spread to humans through contaminated water. The eggs of the worms can cause stomach illnesses like diarrhea and cramps or urinary problems. Risk is generally low for most travellers. Avoid swimming in contaminated water. There is no vaccine available for schistosomiasis.

    Travellers' diarrhea
    • Travellers' diarrhea is the most common illness affecting travellers. It is spread from eating or drinking contaminated food or water.
    • Risk of developing travellers’ diarrhea increases when travelling in regions with poor sanitation. Practise safe food and water precautions.
    • The most important treatment for travellers' diarrhea is rehydration (drinking lots of fluids). Carry oral rehydration salts when travelling.

    Insects

    Insects and Illness

    In Southeastern Asia, certain insects carry and spread diseases like chikungunya, dengue fever, Japanese encephalitis, lymphatic filariasis, and malaria.

    Travellers are advised to take precautions against bites.

    Dengue fever
    • Dengue fever occurs in this country. Dengue fever is a viral disease that can cause severe flu-like symptoms. In some cases it leads to dengue haemorrhagic fever, which can be fatal.  
    • Mosquitoes carrying dengue bite during the daytime. They breed in standing water and are often found in urban areas.
    • Protect yourself from mosquito bites. There is no vaccine available for dengue fever.

    Malaria

    Malaria

    • There is a risk of malaria in certain areas and/or during a certain time of year in this country.
    • Malaria is a serious and occasionally fatal disease that is spread by mosquitoes. There is no vaccine against malaria.
    • Protect yourself from mosquito bites. This includes covering up, using insect repellent and staying in well-screened, air-conditioned accommodations. You may also consider sleeping under an insecticide-treated bed net or pre-treating travel gear with insecticides.
    • Antimalarial medication may be recommended depending on your itinerary and the time of year you are travelling. See a health care provider or visit a travel health clinic, preferably six weeks before you travel to discuss your options.

    Animals

    Animals and Illness

    Travellers are cautioned to avoid contact with animals, including dogs, monkeys, snakes, rodents, birds, and bats. Some infections found in some areas in Southeastern Asia, like avian influenza and rabies, can be shared between humans and animals.

    Avian Influenza

    There have been human cases of avian influenza ("bird flu”) in this country. Avian influenza is a viral infection that can spread by contact with infected birds or surfaces and objects contaminated by their feces or other secretions.

    Avoid unnecessary contact with domestic poultry and wild birds as well as surfaces contaminated with their feces or other secretions. Ensure all poultry dishes and eggs are thoroughly cooked.


    Person-to-Person

    Person-to-Person Infections

    Crowded conditions can increase your risk of certain illnesses. Remember to wash your hands often and practice proper cough and sneeze etiquette to avoid colds, the flu and other illnesses.

    Sexually transmitted infections (STIs) and HIV are spread through blood and bodily fluids; practise safer sex.

    Tuberculosis

    Tuberculosis is an infection caused by bacteria and usually affects the lungs.

    For most travellers the risk of tuberculosis is low.

    Travellers who may be at high risk while travelling in regions with risk of tuberculosis should discuss pre- and post-travel options with a health care provider.

    High-risk travellers include those visiting or working in prisons, refugee camps, homeless shelters, or hospitals, or travellers visiting friends and relatives.


    Medical services and facilities

    Medical services and facilities

    Medical facilities throughout Laos are scarce and operate below Western standards. Medical evacuation to Thailand is required, except for basic medical conditions and injuries, in order to obtain acceptable standards of treatment. Such evacuations are very expensive and difficult to organize. Take this into account prior to travel if you suffer from an unstable medical condition. Seek immediate assistance in Vientiane and consider leaving if you experience medical problems while in Laos.

    Canadians may visit the Australian embassy’s clinic (country and area codes: 856-21/ tel.: 353-840), which is located in the same building as the Australian Chancery, or the International Clinic attached to Mahasot Hospital (country and area codes: 856-21/ tel: 414-022).

    Keep in Mind...

    The decision to travel is the sole responsibility of the traveller. The traveller is also responsible for his or her own personal safety.

    Be prepared. Do not expect medical services to be the same as in Canada. Pack a travel health kit, especially if you will be travelling away from major city centres.

    You are subject to local laws. Consult our Arrest and Detention page for more information.

    Laws

    Penalties for possession, use or trafficking of illegal drugs are strict and may include the death penalty.

    Non-marital sexual relationships between foreigners and Laotian citizens are against the law, as are various forms of cohabitation with Laotian nationals. Convictions for such offences can lead to prison sentences and large fines. Improper registration of a relationship to a Laotian national can lead to similar penalties. Permission for marriage or engagement to a Laotian citizen must be submitted in a formal application to Laotian authorities.

    You can be fined for not carrying proper identification, such as your passport, at all times, and for not having an entry stamp in your passport.

    Photography of government buildings and vehicles, as well as bridges, airfields, military installations or personnel, is prohibited. Violators may be arrested and equipment seized.

    Laos is tolerant of a wide diversity of religions. However, religious proselytizing or distributing of religious material is strictly prohibited. Violators may be arrested or deported.

    An International Driving Permit is recommended.

    Culture

    Public displays of affection, such as kissing, whether between opposite or same-sex couples, are not considered proper or polite.

    Laos presents a risky business environment. Judicial and regulatory regimes may not operate with the same transparency as can be expected in Canada. Individuals may be held legally and financially responsible for company dealings. The possibility of bureaucratic delays and unexpected legal interpretations should be accounted for in business planning. For further information, consult the Canadian Trade Commissioner Service.

    Money

    The currency is the kip (LAK). It is not easily obtained or exchanged outside of Laos. U.S. dollars and Thai baht are also widely accepted. There are very few automated banking machines in Laos that accept foreign cards. Those that do are often out of order. Major credit cards are accepted at some international hotels and tourist establishments. Cash advances can be obtained from some banks although commissions are high. Traveller’s cheques can be cashed at most banks in Vientiane and other major towns. Western Union provides services in several major cities and towns across the country.

    Climate

    The rainy (monsoon) season extends from May to November. During the rainy season, the provinces along the Mekong River in southern Laos are prone to severe rainstorms that can cause flooding and landslides, resulting in significant loss of life, extensive damage to infrastructure and hampering the provision of essential services. Keep informed of regional weather forecasts, avoid disaster areas and follow the advice of local authorities. Consult our Typhoons and monsoons page for more information.